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Marsh v. Alabama

    Brief Fact Summary. Marsh, a Jehovah’s Witness, was arrested for trespassing after attempting to distribute religious literature in a privately owned Alabama town.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. A private entity that acts like a governmental body and performs a public function is subject to the United States Constitution (Constitution).

    Facts. A Corporation owned a town called Chickasaw in Alabama. The town was accessible and used freely by the public except for the fact that the Gulf Shipbuilding Corporation owned title to the town and paid the police. Marsh, a Jehovah’s Witness was told she needed a permit to distribute her flyers. However, Marsh declined to obtain a permit and refused to leave the sidewalk. Marsh was arrested and charged with violating Alabama’s anti-trespassing statute.
    Marsh claimed that applying the statute to her violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution.

    Issue. Is the Constitution applicable to privately owned towns?

    Held. Yes, it applies, because the town acts like a government body. The Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) first recognizes that if Chickasaw had been a municipality the anti-trespassing statute would not be unconstitutional. The Supreme Court specifically states that a private town is not the same as a private homeowner. Meaning, it is not appropriate to suppress unwanted religious expression in the town like it would be in a private home.

    Discussion. The more an owner opens up his property to the public, the more the Constitution is applicable. Here, the town was treated like a town, where the public was free to do as they pleased. The fact that the property (the town) is privately owned, does not justify restricting fundamental liberties. Therefore, Alabama’s attempt to convict Marsh cannot stand.


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