1941 March 31

Supreme Court Allows Time, Place and Manner Restrictions on Parades – But No Limits on Content

 

Cox v. New Hampshire, decided on this day, was one of several important Supreme Court First Amendment cases involving the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Witnesses were an extremely unpopular religious group at the time, arguably the most reviled group in the country, because of its anti-Catholic views and aggressive proselytizing tactics (massive door-to-door campaigns, for example). Communities responded with various tactics to restrict their activities. In this case, the Court held that governments could not restrict public parades on the basis of the content of a group’s message, but could require time, place and manner restrictions.

The Court: “And the[state supreme] court further observed that, in fixing time and place, the license served ‘to prevent confusion by overlapping parades or processions, to secure convenient use of the streets by other travelers, and to minimize the risk of disorder’. But the [state supreme] court held that the licensing board was not vested with arbitrary power or an unfettered discretion; that its discretion must be exercised with ‘uniformity of method of treatment upon the facts of each application, free from improper or inappropriate considerations and from unfair discrimination’; that a ‘systematic, consistent and just order of treatment, with reference to the convenience of public use of the highways, is the statutory mandate’.”

Read about the Jehovah’s Witnesses and their contribution to Constitutional law: Shawn Francis Peters, Judging Jehovah’s Witnesses: Religious Persecution and the Dawn of the Rights Revolution (2000)

Learn more about time, place, and manner regulations here.

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