Brief Fact Summary. A Jehovah’s Witnesses was convicted on a charge of breach of the peace for playing a phonograph record sharply critical of the Catholic religion to persons he encountered on the street.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. A State may proscribe speech if it amounts to a breach of the peace, which encompasses not only violent acts, but also acts and words likely to produce violence in others.
Issue. Did the arrest and conviction of Cantwell for violating the common law offense of breach of the peace violate his constitutional rights of free speech under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution (Constitution)?
Held. Yes. The lower court is reversed.
Justice Owen Roberts (J. Roberts) stated that while it is obvious that the principles of freedom of speech and religion do not sanction incitement to riot or violence, it is equally obvious that a State may not unduly suppress free communication of views under the guise of maintaining desirable conditions. With these considerations in mind, we note that there was no evidence of assaultive behavior or threatening of bodily harm, no truculent bearing, no profane, abusive, indecent remarks directed to the person of the hearer. Thus, it cannot be said that Cantwell’s actions resulted in a breach of the peace or an incitement to a breach thereof.
Such a declaration of the State's policy would weigh heavily in any challenge of the law as infringing constitutional limitations.View Full Point of Law