310 U.S. 296, 60 S.Ct. 900, 84 L.Ed. 1213 ( 1940)
Cantwell and others, all members of Jehovah's Witnesses, were convicted of two violations of Connecticut law. One count of a five-count indictment charged them with soliciting money and subscriptions for their cause without first obtaining a certificate of approval from the secretary of the public welfare council, who was empowered to determine whether the cause was a "religious" one or a "bona fide" object of charity. Cantwell was also charged with a breach of the peace based on his actions in stopping persons on the public streets and asking and receiving their permission to play a phonograph record of a speech attacking Catholicism. Two of the men accosted testified that they were tempted to strike Cantwell, but no violence occurred, and he left them when requested. Appeal and certiorari were granted.
MR. JUSTICE ROBERTS delivered the opinion of the Court. . . .
First. We hold that the statute, as construed and applied to the appellants, deprives them of their liberty without due process of law in contravention of the Fourteenth Amendment. The fundamental concept of liberty embodied in that Amendment embraces the liberties guaranteed by the First Amendment. The First Amendment declares that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The Fourteenth Amendment has rendered the legislatures of the states as incompetent as Congress to enact such laws. The constitutional inhibition of legislation on the subject of religion has a double aspect. On the one hand, it forestalls compulsion by law of the acceptance of any creed or the practice of any form of worship. Freedom of conscience and freedom to adhere to such religious organization or form of worship as the individual may choose cannot be restricted by law. On the other hand, it safeguards the free exercise of the chosen form of religion. Thus the Amendment embraces two concepts, -- freedom to believe and freedom to act. The first is absolute but, in the nature of things, the second cannot be. Conduct remains subject to regulation for the protection of society. The freedom to act must have appropriate definition to preserve the enforcement of that protection. In every case the power to regulate must be so exercised as not, in attaining a permissible end, unduly to infringe the protected freedom. No one would contest the proposition that a State may not, by statute, wholly deny the right to preach or to disseminate religious views. Plainly such a previous and absolute restraint would violate the terms of the guarantee. It is equally clear that a State may by general and non-discriminatory legislation regulate the times, the places, and the manner of soliciting upon its streets, and of holding meetings thereon; and may in other respects safeguard the peace, good order and comfort of the community, without unconstitutionally invading the liberties protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. The appellants are right in their insistence that the Act in question is not such a regulation. If a certificate is procured, solicitation is permitted
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Publication information: Book title: American Constitutional Law:Introductory Essays & Selected Cases. Contributors: Alpheus Thomas Mason - Author, William M. Beaney - Author. Publisher: Prentice Hall. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 1954. Page number: 590.
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