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United States v. Ballard - 322 U.S. 78, 64 S. Ct. 882 (1944)

Rule:

The First Amendment has a dual aspect. It not only forestalls compulsion by law of the acceptance of any creed or the practice of any form of worship but also 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. Freedom of thought, which includes freedom of religious belief, is basic in a society of free men. It embraces the right to maintain theories of life and of death and of the hereafter which are rank heresy to followers of the orthodox faiths. Heresy trials are foreign to our Constitution. Men may believe what they cannot prove.

Facts:

Defendants were convicted of mail fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C.S. §§ 88 and 388. At their trial, the jury was instructed that it was not to determine the truth or falsity of any of defendants' religious beliefs, which were included in correspondence to individuals soliciting both money and participation in their religion. Rather, the jury was to determine whether defendants had a good faith belief in their religious convictions or whether they lacked a good faith belief in them. The jury was instructed to acquit the defendants if it found that they had a good faith belief in the religious convictions; otherwise, it was instructed to convict defendants. On appeal, the appeals court found that in order to prove the offense charged, it was necessary to show that defendants had purposely set forth at least some false convictions. The government appealed, contending that the good faith test used by the jury was appropriate.

Issue:

Did the district court properly withhold from the jury all questions concerning the truth or falsity of respondents' religious beliefs or doctrines?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

The United States Supreme Court found that the First Amendment safeguarded one's religious beliefs and consequently forbade one's conviction for false religious views. The First Amendment has a dual aspect. It not only forestalls compulsion by law of the acceptance of any creed or the practice of any form of worship but also 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. Freedom of thought, which includes freedom of religious belief, is basic in a society of free men. It embraces the right to maintain theories of life and of death and of the hereafter which are rank heresy to followers of the orthodox faiths. Heresy trials are foreign to our Constitution. Men may believe what they cannot prove.

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