Ella Jamison, a longtime member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, was distributing pamphlets to Dallas pedestrians, inviting them to hear a speech from another Jehovah’s Witness and to contribute money to the Jehovah’s Witnesses by buying their books. She was charged with violating a city ordinance prohibiting distribution of pamphlets.
The Corporation Court of Dallas and the County Criminal Court successively convicted her, and she appealed to the United States Supreme Court. The Court held that the Dallas ordinance violated her First Amendment rights of freedom of press and of religion, applied to the states per the Fourteenth Amendment.
The Court rejected both of the city’s arguments in favor of the ordinance. First, it said that although cities certainly have much control of travel and public conduct, individuals have the right to express their views ‘‘in an orderly fashion’’ in public spaces. The right to do so is protected, whether in speech or written word.
Second, the Court rejected the city’s argument that despite their goal of advancing a religious cause, the invitation to purchase should render the pamphlets commercial and, therefore, proscribable. Following its holding in Schneider v. Irvington, the existence of a commercial statement in the pamphlet was not sufficient to interdict it. Purely commercial pamphlets, the Court said, could still be proscribed by the state.
This case is one of several foreshadowing the Court’s line of ‘‘forum doctrine’’ cases, which hold (among other things) that communication of ideas in public forums is an important First Amendment right.
References and Further Reading
Cases and Statutes Cited