Civil liberties, as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, imply the existence of an organized society maintaining public order without which liberty itself would be lost in the excesses of unrestrained abuses. The authority of a municipality to impose regulations in order to assure the safety and convenience of the people in the use of public highways has never been regarded as inconsistent with civil liberties. Where a restriction of the use of highways is designed to promote the public convenience in the interest of all, it cannot be disregarded by the attempted exercise of some civil right which in other circumstances would be entitled to protection.
On the evening of July 8, 1939, sixty-eight defendants - five of whom were “Jehovah’s Witnesses” and sixty-three others were of the same persuasion - met at a hall in the City of Manchester for the purpose of engaging in an information march. The defendants proceeded to march along the sidewalk, carrying different signage containing their religious sentiments. The defendants held this activity without obtaining government permits. Consequently, the defendants were charged with and convicted in the municipal court of Manchester, New Hampshire, for violation of a state statute prohibiting a parade or procession upon a public street without a special license. The defendants contended that the participation of each defendant in the march was for the purpose of disseminating information in the public interest and was one of their ways of worship. On appeal, the state supreme court affirmed the defendants’ conviction; thereafter, they sought a review of the judgment, arguing that the state statute was invalid under the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States in that it deprived them of various rights, including rights of freedom of worship and freedom of speech and press.
Did the state statute, which prohibited a parade or procession upon a public street without a special license, violate the defendants’ rights granted under the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution?
The Court held that the regulation of the use of the streets for parades and processions was a traditional exercise of control by the state. Further, the Court found that the statute was not aimed at any religious or free speech restraint. Accordingly, it affirmed the state supreme court’s decision to convict the defendants of violating the state statute that prohibited a "parade or procession" upon a public street without a special license.