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Law School Case Brief

Marsh v. Alabama - 326 U.S. 501, 66 S. Ct. 276 (1946)

Rule:

The managers appointed by a corporate owner of a town cannot curtail the liberty of press and religion of the people living in the town consistently with the purposes of U.S. Constitutional guarantees, and a state statute which enforces such action by criminally punishing those who attempt to distribute religious literature violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

Facts:

Defendant Marsh, a Jehovah’s Witness, was convicted of having remained on the premises of another after having been warned not to do so after she refused to leave a sidewalk in a town where she was handing out religious literature. The town had a business section with shops and sidewalks as well as residential neighborhoods. There was nothing in its appearance to distinguish the town from any other town, except that the title to the town property belonged to a private corporation. On appeal, defendant claimed that the imposition of criminal punishment on her for distributing religious literature on the premises of a company-owned town violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution of the United States.

Issue:

By punishing defendant because she distributed religious literature on the premises of a company-owned town, were her First and Fourteenth Amendment rights violated?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

According to the Supreme Court of the United States, a state could not, consistently with the freedom of religion and the press guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments, impose criminal punishment on a person for distributing religious literature on the sidewalk of a company-owned town contrary to regulations of the town's management, where the town and its shopping district were freely accessible to and freely used by the public in general, even though the punishment was attempted under a state statute making it a crime for anyone to enter or remain on the premises of another after having been warned not to do so. The Court concluded that the managers of a company-owned town could not curtail the liberty of press and religion of its public consistently with the purposes of the constitutional guarantees and that a state statute which enforced such actions by criminally punishing those who attempted to distribute religious literature violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

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