A group of Jehovah’s Witnesses was convicted in New Hampshire of violating a state statute that prohibited public processions without a permit. The religious group had staged an unauthorized march in downtown Manchester to advertise their religious and political beliefs. After their arrest, the group sued the state for violating their Fourteenth Amendment rights to freedom of speech, press, worship, and assembly. The Supreme Court unanimously rejected their claims, arguing that the licensing laws served a limited and practical purpose of promoting social order and did not violate their civil liberties. The courts emphasized that the marchers were convicted for breaking the licensing statute, not for distributing information, holding public meetings, or expressing religious beliefs. Moreover, the group could have advertised its beliefs without breaking the law by getting a permit for an organized march. Also, there was no indication that the licensing laws were applied in a discriminatory manner to censor the Jehovah’s Witnesses or any other group, so the constitutional challenge was inapplicable. The Court shows here that the expression of civil liberties can be reasonably restrained, through the government’s traditional regulation of the use of streets, in the interest of social order. The case is one of many cases where the Court has held that nondiscriminatory restrictions on time, place, and manner of speech are reasonable for a public forum. The case is distinguished from those in which the challenged laws explicitly or more severely restrict freedom of speech and assembly, where such laws have been declared unconstitutional.
DAVID D. BURNETT
References and Further Reading
Cases and Statutes Cited
See also Accommodation of Religion; Balancing Approach to Free Speech; Content-Based Regulation of Speech; Content-Neutral Regulation of Speech; Equal Protection Clause and Religious Freedom; Establishment of Religion and Free Exercise Clauses; Fourteenth Amendment; Freedom of Speech and Press: Nineteenth Century; Jehovah’s Witnesses and Religious Liberty; Private Religious Speech on Public Property; Religion in ‘‘Public Square’’ Debate; Religious Symbols on Public Property; Zoning and Religious Entities; Zoning Laws and Freedom of Speech