BOWEN V. ROY, 476 U. S. 693 (1986)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Bowen v. Roy, 476 U.S. 693 (1986)

Bowen v. Roy

No. 84-780

Argued January 14, 1986

Decided June 11, 1986

476 U.S. 693


Appellees applied for and received benefits under the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program and the Food Stamp program. They refused, however, to comply with the federal statutory requirements that participants in those programs furnish the state welfare agencies who administer the programs with their Social Security numbers and those of each member of their household as a condition of receiving benefits, and that each state agency utilize those numbers in administering the programs. Appellees contended that obtaining a Social Security number for their 2-year-old daughter would violate their Native American religious beliefs. Thereafter, the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare terminated AFDC benefits payable to appellees on the child's behalf and instituted proceedings to reduce the level of food stamps that appellees' household was receiving. Appellees then filed an action in Federal District Court, claiming that the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment entitled them to an exemption from the Social Security number requirements, and requesting injunctive and other relief. Following a trial in which it was disclosed that the child had in fact been assigned a Social Security number, the court held that the public interest in maintaining an efficient and fraud-resistant system could be met without requiring a Social Security number for the child. The court then enjoined the Secretary of Health and Human Services from using and disseminating the Social Security number issued in the child's name, and also enjoined the federal and state defendants from denying appellees benefits, until the child's 16th birthday, because of their refusal to provide a Social Security number for her.

Held: The judgment is vacated, and the case is remanded.

590 F.Supp. 600, vacated and remanded.

CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I and II, concluding that the statutory requirement that a state agency utilize Social Security numbers in administering the programs in question does not violate the Free Exercise Clause. That Clause affords an individual protection from certain forms of governmental compulsion, but does not afford an individual a right to dictate the conduct of the Government's internal procedures. The Government's

Page 476 U. S. 694

use of a Social Security number for appellees' child does not itself impair appellees' freedom to exercise their religion. Pp. 476 U. S. 699-701.

CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER, joined by JUSTICE POWELL and JUSTICE REHNQUIST, concluded in Part III that the statutory requirement that applicants provide a Social Security number as a condition of eligibility for the benefits in question does not violate the Free Exercise Clause. That requirement is facially neutral in religious terms, applies to all applicants for the benefits involved, and clearly promotes a legitimate and important public interest. Preventing fraud in these benefit programs is an important goal, and the Social Security number requirement is a reasonable means of promoting that goal. Government regulation that indirectly and incidentally calls for a choice between securing a governmental benefit and adherence to religious beliefs is wholly different from governmental action or legislation that criminalizes religiously inspired activity or compels conduct that some find objectionable for religious reasons. Pp. 476 U. S. 701-712.

BURGER, C.J.,announced the judgment of the Court and delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I and II, in which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, POWELL, REHNQUIST, STEVENS, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined, and an opinion with respect to Part III, in which POWELL and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., filed an opinion concurring in part, post, p. 476 U. S. 712. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the result, post, p. 476 U. S. 716. O'CONNOR, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 476 U. S. 724. WHITE, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 476 U. S. 733.

Page 476 U. S. 695

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