Freedom of religion, secured by the First Amendment against abridgment by the United States, is also secured to all persons by the Fourteenth Amendment against abridgment by a state. The due process clause has rendered the legislatures of the states as incompetent as Congress to enact any laws respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. But the First Amendment embraces two concepts, freedom to believe and freedom to act. On one hand, it prevents compulsion by law of the acceptance of any creed or the practice of any form of worship. On the other hand, it safeguards the free exercise of the chosen form of religion. Freedom to believe is absolute, but freedom to act is not. Conduct is subject to regulation for the protection of society. While the power to regulate must be so exercised in every case as not to infringe the protected freedom, the state, by general and nondiscriminatory legislation, may safeguard the peace, good order and comfort of the community without unconstitutionally invading the liberties protected by the Fourteenth Amendment.
Defendant was convicted of violating § 444A, which prohibited the posting or maintaining of any sign intended to aid in the solicitation or performance of marriages, as a result of his posting of illuminated signs at the entrance to his home and on the highway that indicated that he was a minister. Defendant appealed, claiming that § 444A was unconstitutional because it violated his right to exercise freedom of religion. The court affirmed and ruled that the issue of whether defendant or anyone else could perform a marriage was not a religious question at all, except to people whose religion prohibited them from being married by defendant. Furthermore, § 444A was a proper exercise of the legislature's power to regulate conduct for the protection of society in order to curb the thriving businesses of unethical ministers that had built up as a result of an increase of the number of couples coming from nearby states to be married in Maryland, subsequent to the passage of stringent marriage law in the nearby states.
Was the Act unconstitutional?
The court in this case stated that Article 15, Section 5, of the Constitution of Maryland, providing that in the trial of all criminal cases the jury shall be the judges of law and of fact, does not conflict with the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. The provision of the State Constitution has been interpreted so as to give to the accused every reasonable consideration possible without trespassing upon the rules of constitutional construction. The judge in a criminal trial has the right to instruct the jury as to the legal effect of the evidence admitted at the trial. If such an instruction is erroneous, an appeal may be taken to the Court of Appeals. In the case at bar the judge did instruct the jury and he treated the Act as constitutional. The Act is constitutional and the judge was right in so holding. The Court found no error in the Judge's instruction. Moreover, defendant, after the jury rendered their verdict of guilty, filed a motion for a new trial. He was then given an opportunity to be heard upon any contentions as to abridgment of his constitutional rights. But the trial judge overruled his motion. The Court found no basis for the contention that the judgment in this case abridges defendant's constitutional rights.
Thus, the court affirmed the judgment of the trial court.