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Cantwell v. Connecticut


Cantwell v. Connecticut was the first case to state that the First Amendment's Free Exercise of Religion Clause applies at the state level, and also the first to state what later became a standard canon of constitutional law: the "time, place, and manner " rule.

Newton Cantwell, together with his sons, Jesse and Russell, was arrested while individually going house to house in a heavily Catholic neighborhood of New Haven, Connecticut. As they went from one door to the next, the Cantwells, all of them members of the Jehovah's Witnesses, asked residents if they would like to accept a pamphlet or hear a record. Both of these items attacked Roman Catholicism. If the residents refused requests to buy a book, the Cantwells then solicited a donation that would go toward publication of more pamphlets.

Police arrested the Cantwells, charging them under a Connecticut statute requiring individuals to obtain permission from the secretary of public welfare prior to engaging in solicitation. After the Cantwells were convicted in trial court, they appealed to the state supreme court, which affirmed their convictions. They then turned to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The opinion of the Court, written by Justice Roberts, first dispensed with the argument that the First Amendment did not apply to the state of Connecticut. Clearly, said the Court, the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment--which says that no state shall "deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law"--makes the First Amendment applicable at the state level. Here, for the first time, the Court specifically stated that the Free Exercise of Religion Clause of the First Amendment applies to states as well as to the federal government. "The First Amendment declares that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The Fourteenth Amendment has rendered the legislatures of the states as incompetent as Congress to enact such laws."

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1918 to 1940Cantwell v. Connecticut - Significance, Court Develops The "time, Place, And Manner" Rule, "time, Place, And Manner" Rule