Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296; 60 S. Ct. 900; 84 L. Ed. 1213 (1940)

Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296; 60 S. Ct. 900; 84 L. Ed. 1213 (1940)

Facts—Newton Cantwell and other Jehovah’s Witnesses went from house to house in New Haven, Connecticut, selling books. They were equipped with a record player that described the books, and they asked each householder for permission to play the record before doing so. They were convicted under a statute that said that no person could solicit money for alleged religious purposes from someone not of their sect unless they first secured a permit from the secretary of the Public Welfare Council.

Question—Does this statute deprive the appellants of their liberty and freedom of religion in violation of the First Amendment as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment?


ReasonsJ. Roberts (9–0). The act required an application to the secretary of the Public Welfare Council of the state. He was empowered to determine whether the cause was religious, and the issuance of a certificate depended upon his affirmative action. If he found that the cause was not religious, it then became a crime to solicit for the cause. He did not issue the certificate as a matter of course. He must first appraise the facts, exercise judgment, and formulate an opinion. He was authorized to withhold certification if he believed the cause not to be religious. Such a censorship of religion as the means of determining its right to survive denies liberty protected by the First Amendment as applied to the states by the Fourteenth Amendment.Note—Cantwell was the first case to apply the religious guarantees of the First Amendment to the states via the Fourteenth Amendment.

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