Cantwell v. Connecticut

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310 U.S. 296 (1940), argued 29 Mar. 1940, decided 30 May 1940, by vote of 9 to 0; Roberts for the Court. In Lovell v. City of Griffin (1938), the Supreme Court sustained the free speech rights of Jehovah's Witnesses without discussing the claim of free exercise of religion. In Cantwell v. Connecticut, however, the Court relied on that clause to uphold the Witnesses’ practices.

Cantwell dealt with a Witness who went from door to door asking the resident if he or she would like to hear a record or accept a pamphlet. Both materials included an attack on the Catholic religion—and this in an overwhelmingly Catholic neighborhood. The Jehovah's Witness was convicted for failing to obtain the required approval by the secretary of public welfare.

The Court adjudged the conviction invalid, expressing what would become a universal rule of law. A state may regulate the times, the places, and the manner of soliciting contributions and holding meetings on its streets, but cannot forbid them altogether. The First Amendment provided for both a freedom to believe and to act.

Leo Pfeffer

Subjects: Law.

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