Civil Rights in the United States

By Alison Reppy | Go to book overview

CHAPTER V
The Four Freedoms

IN the field of the four freedoms, covering freedom of assembly, speech, press and religion, during the biennial period under survey, there were a number of decisions of unusual and lasting significance. Among these were several cases of considerable importance touching the right of freedom of assembly.

A. Freedom of Assembly . -- The first of these cases, Sellers v. Johnson,1 grew out of a meeting of Jehovah's Witnesses in a public park in a small Iowa town, which meeting was interrupted by a protesting mob of G. I.'s, with rioting ensuing. Fearful that a similar incident would occur at the next meeting, the town council adopted a resolution requiring the Witnesses to secure permission of the council before holding further meetings, and made violation thereof unlawful and punishable. A permit having been refused, the Witnesses instituted a class action in the federal district court against the municipality seeking, under the Federal Civil Rights Act,2 to restrain enforcement of the resolution and prayed for a declaratory judgment that the plaintiffs had a right under the Constitution to use the park in the conduct of their meetings and that the resolution requiring a permit was void. In other words, they contended that there was a violation of their federally- protected rights of assembly, free speech and worship. The trial court, after trial, dismissed the petition upon the merits, holding that there was such a clear and present danger of mob violence

____________________
1
163 F. 2d s877 (8th Cir.), cert. denied, 332 U. S. 851, 68 Sup. Ct. 356, 92 L. ed. (Adv. op.) 319 ( 1948).
2
REV. STAT. §1975 ( 1875), 8 U. S. C. A. §43 ( 1940), implemented as to jurisdiction by 36 STAT. 1092 ( 1911), 28 U. S. C. A. §41(14) ( 1940).

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