Murdock v. Pennsylvania 319 U.S. 105 (1943)

Author:Richard E. Morgan

Page 1768

A city ordinance required anyone offering goods for sale or engaged in solicitation (as opposed to sale from fixed premises) to obtain a license and pay a fee. Jehovah's Witnesses charged with violating the ordinance challenged it as a violation of the free exercise clause of the FIRST AMENDMENT.

Justice WILLIAM O. DOUGLAS, delivering the OPINION OF THE COURT, held that although the Witnesses offered literature for sale, their activity was "as evangelical as the revival meeting," occupying the same high estate under the First Amendment as worship in churches and preaching from pulpits. On the same day the Court vacated the judgment in Jones v. Opelika (1942), where the Court had previously upheld such an ordinance against a similar challenge.

Justice STANLEY F. REED dissented, arguing that Jones v. Opelika had been correctly decided. Justices OWEN ROBERTS, FELIX FRANKFURTER, and ROBERT H. JACKSON joined Reed's dissent. Justice Frankfurter also dissented separately, arguing that persons are not constitutionally "exempt from taxation merely because they may be engaged in religious activities or because such activities may constitute the exercise of a constitutional right."

Murdock represented a step away from the...

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