1939 July 8

Jehovah’s Witnesses Parade in Manchester, NH – End in Supreme Court

 

Sixty-eight members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses were arrested on this day for parading without a permit. Their convictions were appealed to the Supreme Court, which ruled, in Cox v. New Hampshire on March 31, 1941, that governments could require parade permits and set reasonable time, place and manner restrictions, but could not restrict the content of the views expressed.

Because of their anti-Catholic rhetoric and proselytizing tactics that many communities found obnoxious, the Jehovah’s Witnesses were the most hated group in America in the late 1930s and 1940s. As a result, they were the target of many laws designed to restrict their activities. In addition, they were the victims of many vigilante attacks by mobs.

The case that began on this day was one of many involving the Jehovah’s Witnesses between the late 1930s and the early 1950s in which the Supreme Court established new and important protections of First Amendment rights. The case of Cantwell v. Connecticut, involving the family of Newton Cantwell, established the free exercise of religion on May 20, 1940. The most famous controversy involved the refusal on religious grounds of Jehovah’s Witness children to participate in compulsory school flag salute exercises. The Supreme Court affirmed that right in West Virginia v. Barnette, on June 14, 1943.

The Court: “If a municipality has authority to control the use of its public streets for parades or processions, as it undoubtedly has, it cannot be denied authority to give consideration, without unfair discrimination, to time, place and manner in relation to the other proper uses of the streets.”

Learn more: Shawn Peters, Judging Jehovah’s Witnesses: Religious Persecution and the Dawn of the Rights Revolution (2000)

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