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Prince v. Massachusetts

Supreme Court of the United States

December 14, 1943, Argued ; January 31, 1944, Decided

No. 98


 [*159]   [**439]   [***649]  MR. JUSTICE RUTLEDGE delivered the opinion of the Court.

The case brings for review another episode in the conflict between Jehovah's Witnesses and state authority.  This time Sarah Prince appeals from convictions for violating Massachusetts' child labor laws, by acts said to be a rightful exercise of her  [****3]  religious convictions.

When the offenses were committed she was the aunt and custodian of Betty M. Simmons, a girl nine years of age. Originally there were three separate complaints. They  [*160]  were, shortly, for (1) refusal to disclose Betty's identity and age to a public officer whose duty was to enforce the statutes; (2) furnishing her with magazines, knowing she was to sell them unlawfully, that is, on the street; and (3) as Betty's custodian, permitting her to work contrary to law. The complaints were made, respectively, pursuant to §§ 79, 80 and 81 of Chapter 149, Gen. Laws of Mass. (Ter. Ed.). The Supreme Judicial Court reversed the conviction under the first complaint on state grounds; 1 [****4]  but sustained the judgments founded on the other two. 2313 Mass. 223, 46 N. E. 2d 755.They present the only questions for our decision. These are whether §§ 80 and 81, as applied, contravene the Fourteenth Amendment by denying or abridging appellant's freedom of religion and by denying to her the equal protection of the laws.

Sections 80 and 81 form parts of Massachusetts' comprehensive child labor law. 3 They provide methods for enforcing the prohibitions of § 69, which is as follows:

] "No boy under twelve and no girl under eighteen shall sell, expose or offer for sale any newspapers, magazines, periodicals or any other articles of merchandise of any  [*161]  description, or exercise the trade of bootblack or scavenger, or any other trade, in any street or public place."

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321 U.S. 158 *; 64 S. Ct. 438 **; 88 L. Ed. 645 ***; 1944 U.S. LEXIS 1328 ****; 7 Lab. Cas. (CCH) P51,172


Subsequent History: As Amended. 


APPEAL from a judgment entered on a rescript from the highest court of the State, which sustained convictions on two of three complaints for violations of a state statute.

Disposition:  313 Mass. 223, 46 N. E. 2d 755, affirmed.


religious, street, religion, adults, secular, training, worship, magazines, attendance, conscience, preaching, church, evils, girl

Business & Corporate Compliance, Labor & Employment Law, Wage & Hour Laws, Child Labor, Criminal Law & Procedure, Sentencing, Fines, Constitutional Law, Fundamental Freedoms, Freedom of Religion, Free Exercise of Religion, Education Law, Attendance Policies, General Overview, Governments, Police Powers