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Opinions & Commentaries

George Reynolds, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, more commonly known as the Mormon Church, was convicted by a jury in the Utah Territory of bigamy for engaging in a plural marriage. Reynolds raised several assignments of error, some related to evidence law and criminal procedure, and including an assertion that his conviction for bigamy violated his right to freely exercise his religion as guaranteed by the First Amendment. Reynolds contended that his religion encouraged and in some circumstances mandated plural marriage, and offered testimony in support of this. Nonetheless, he was convicted. The Supreme Court upheld his conviction, stating that to hold otherwise would allow absurd results and permit religious beliefs to rise above the law. Allowing Reynolds's religious defense would, according to the Court, "permit every citizen to become a law unto himself. Government could only exist in name under such circumstances." Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145, 167 (1878).

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A Minnesota statute passed in 1925 provided for the "abatement" of a "malicious, scandalous and defamatory newspaper, magazine or other periodical." Near v. State of Minnesota ex rel. Olson, 283 U.S. 697, 701-02 (1931). J.M. Near published a newspaper called The Saturday Press, which contained articles complaining of the mayor, district attorney, and chief of police, among others, and alleging a Jewish gambling conspiracy. As a result, the county attorney filed an action against the paper to prevent it from publishing any more issues. Near argued that the law violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution.

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Appellant, Dirk De Jonge, was indicted in Multnomah County, Oregon, for violation of the Criminal Syndicalism Law of that State.[1] The Act, which we set forth in *357 the margin, defines "criminal syndicalism" as "the doctrine which advocates crime, physical violence, sabotage or any unlawful acts or methods as a means of accomplishing or effecting industrial or political change or revolution." With this preliminary definition the Act proceeds to describe a number of offenses, embracing the teaching of criminal syndicalism, the printing or distribution of books, pamphlets, etc., advocating that doctrine, the organization of a society or assemblage which advocates it, and presiding at or assisting in conducting a meeting of such an organization, society or group. The prohibited acts are made felonies, punishable by imprisonment for not less than one year nor more than ten years, or by a fine of not more than $1,000, or by both.We are concerned with but one of the described offenses and with the validity of the statute in this particular application. The charge is that appellant assisted in the conduct of a meeting which was called under the auspices of the Communist Party, an organization advocating criminal syndicalism. The defense was that the meeting was public and orderly and was held for a lawful purpose; that while it was held under the auspices of the Communist Party, neither criminal syndicalism nor any unlawful conduct was taught or advocated at the meeting either by appellant or by others. Appellant moved for a direction of acquittal, contending that the statute as applied to him, for merely assisting at a meeting called by the Communist Party at which nothing unlawful was done or advocated, violated the due process clause of the *358 Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.

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The Committee for Industrial Organization gathered in New Jersey to initiate a recruitment drive. Police shut down the meeting based on a city ordinance that forbade labor meetings in public. The CIO filed suit against several city officials, challenging the ordinance on First Amendment grounds.

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Newton Cantwell and his two sons, Jesse and Russell — who identified as Jehovah's Witnesses and claimed to be ordained ministers — were arrested in New Haven, Connecticut after distributing religious literature for inciting a breach of the peace and violating a local ordinance requiring solicitors to obtain a permit.

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The West Virginia State Board of Education adopted a resolution ordering that saluting the flag become “a regular part of the program of activities in the public schools,” and that all teachers and pupils “shall be required to participate in the salute honoring the Nation represented by the Flag.” It also provided that “refusal to salute the Flag be regarded as an act of insubordination, and shall be dealt with accordingly.” Failure to conform was “insubordination,” dealt with by expulsion, and readmission was denied by statute until compliance. Meanwhile, the expelled child was “unlawfully absent,” and could be proceeded against as a delinquent. Parents or guardians were liable to prosecution, and, if convicted, were subject to fine not exceeding $50 and jail term not exceeding thirty days. The appellees, who identified as Jehovah’s Witnesses, brought suit in the United States District Court for an injunction to restrain enforcement of these laws and regulations. Jehovah’s Witnesses consider that the flag is a “graven image” within the meaning of the Biblical Second Commandment, and for that reason, they refuse to salute it.

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Close to 200 peaceful protesters filed suit after they were arrested following a demonstration to end segregation at the South Carolina State House. The Supreme Court found that the protesters' First Amendment rights to freedom of speech, association, and petition were violated by the state.

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Adell H. Sherbert was fired from her job because her religious beliefs as a Seventh Day Adventist prohibited her from working on Saturdays. This restriction also made it difficult for her to find other work after losing her job. When Sherbert applied for unemployment benefits from the state of South Carolina, the state denied her relief. South Carolina could deny benefits to those who could not find a job without good cause. Here, South Carolina did not find Sherbert’s religious convictions to be a “good cause” to restrict her employment.

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Sullivan, a Commissioner of the City of Montgomery, Alabama, brought a civil libel suit against the publisher of the New York Times and four individual black clergymen in Alabama for running an ad in the paper. The ad described police action against student demonstrators and a leader of the civil rights movement. Some of the statements in the ad were false. A lower court found in favor of Sullivan, awarding him damages of $500,000.

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Alleging noncompliance with Alabama's corporate registration and business qualification laws, the State in 1956 brought ouster proceedings against the petitioner, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), a New York membership corporation with an office in Alabama and doing business there, and it was barred under an ex parte restraining order from operating in the State. Before any hearing on the merits, a contempt judgment, which the State Supreme Court on procedural grounds refused to review, was rendered against the NAACP for failure to produce its membership lists and other records under court order. Without reaching the validity of the underlying restraining order, this Court reversed, and, following reinstatement by the State Supreme Court of the contempt judgment, reversed again. In 1960, the NAACP, still prohibited from operating in Alabama, sued in a federal court alleging failure by the Alabama courts to afford it a hearing on the merits. The case reached this Court a third time, and, in 1961, was remanded with instructions that the Federal District Court be directed to try the case on the merits unless the State did so by a certain time. The State Circuit Court then heard the case; found that the NAACP had violated the State's constitution and laws; and permanently enjoined it from doing business in the State. The State Supreme Court affirmed, solely on the basis of a procedural rule, which it applied to the NAACP's brief, that where unrelated assignments of error are argued together and one is without merit, the others will not be considered.

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After becoming aware of a plan among some students to protest the Vietnam War by wearing black armbands during school hours, school officials in Des Moines, Iowa, specifically banned wearing armbands in their schools. Previously, students had been allowed to wear “buttons relating to national political campaigns, and some even wore the Iron Cross, traditionally a symbol of Nazism.” The students wore the armbands in violation of the new policy, were suspended, and subsequently sued.

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The Nixon administration attempted to stop The New York Times and Washington Post from publishing materials pertaining to a classified Defense Department report regarding United States action in Vietnam. The Supreme Court found that prior restraint was unjustified because publication would not cause immediate harm to American forces.

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A graduate student at the University of Missouri School of Journalism published the headline “Motherfucker Acquitted” and reprinted a cartoon depicting policemen raping the Statue of Liberty and Goddess of Justice with the caption “With Liberty and Justice for All” in the Free Press Underground, a newspaper that had been sold on the campus for four years. The student was found to have violated the General Standards of Student Conduct that prohibited “indecent conduct or speech.” The student was expelled. The trial court found the publication legally obscene, and so without constitutional protection, and the Eighth Circuit affirmed.

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United States Jaycees, a nonprofit national membership corporation with the goal to promote and foster the growth and development of young men’s civic organizations, limited regular membership to young men between 18 and 35 years old. Associate membership was open to those ineligible for regular membership, such as women and older men. Two local chapters in Minnesota were found to be violating the bylaws by admitting women as regular members. After the chapters were notified by the national organization that revocation of their charters was to be considered, members filed discrimination charges with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. They alleged that the exclusion of women from full membership violated the Minnesota Human Rights Act, which makes it “an unfair discriminatory practice … [t]o deny any person the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of a place of public accommodation because of race, color, creed, religion, disability, national origin or sex.”

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After several violent confrontations between civil rights marchers and local residents in rural Georgia, the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners enacted an ordinance that permitted the county administrator to adjust the fee charged for a parade permit, up to a maximum of $1,000, to reflect the estimated cost of maintaining public order during the parade. In January 1989, The Nationalist Movement applied for a permit to demonstrate in opposition to the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. The county charged a $100 fee that did not include any calculation for expenses incurred by law enforcement authorities, but was based solely on the value of the administrator’s time in issuing the permit. The Movement challenged the fee in federal court. The federal district court rejected the challenge. The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the arbitrary fee violated the 1st Amendment.

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Eagle Scout James Dale became an assistant scoutmaster in 1989. While attending Rutgers University, Dale revealed his sexual orientation during a speech in his capacity as co-president of the university’s Lesbian/Gay Alliance group. In July 1990, scouting authorities sent Dale a letter, severing all ties with him. When Dale wrote to inquire about the reason, they said the grounds for revoking the membership “are the standards for leadership established by the Boy Scouts of America, which specifically forbid membership to homosexuals.” Dale sued in state court, saying the Boy Scouts violated a state law that prevents places of public accommodation from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. After a trial court judge ruled in favor of the Scouts in 1995, both the Superior Court of New Jersey and the Supreme Court of New Jersey ruled in favor of Dale. The Boy Scouts appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States.

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Resources

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