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Marsh v. Alabama

    Brief Fact Summary. The Appellant, Marsh (Appellant), distributed religious literature on the sidewalks of a company owned town in violation of the town’s regulations. The Appellant claimed her freedom of religion and press were violated and brought suit under the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution (Constitution).

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. A state cannot, consistently with the freedom of religion and the press guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution, impose criminal punishment on a person for distributing religious literature on the sidewalk of a company-owned town contrary to regulations of the town’s management, where the town and its shopping district are freely accessible to and freely used by the public in general.

    Facts. The Appellant, a Jehovah’s Witness, distributed religious literature on the sidewalk of a company owned town despite a sign forbidding this kind of conduct. The Appellant was warned she could not distribute the literature without a permit and that no permit would be issued to her. When the Appellant refused to leave, she was arrested and charged with violating a state statute that makes it a crime to enter or remain on the premises of another after having been warned not to do so. The Appellant contended that to construe the state statute, as applicagle to her activities, would abridge her right to free of press and religion. The Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) stated that since the facilities that the Appellant was upon were opened primarily to benefit the public and since their operation was essentially s public function, they were subject to state regulation. The fact that the town as privately owned did not mean the liberties of people could be curtailed
    inconsistent with the Constitution.

    Issue. Can a company town deny freedom of press and religion to people in their town?

    Held. Reversed and remanded. The fact that the premises where the deprivation of liberty occurred, were held by others than the pubic, is not sufficient to justify the State’s permitting a corporation to govern a community of citizens so as to restrict their fundamental liberties

    Dissent. We cannot say the Jehovah’s Witness can claim the privilege of a license merely because the owner has admitted the public to them for other limited purposes.

    Discussion. State action is a prerequisite to the assertion of rights contained in the first eight amendments of the Constitution and the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution. State action will be found when a private actor has acted if (1) the state has delegated a traditional state function to a private entity or (2) because the state has become entangled with a private entity or because the state has approved, encouraged or facilitated private conduct.
    The privately owned town performs an exclusive public function and freedom of speech and religion cannot be totally banned in violation of the Constitution.

    Constitutional Law Keyed to Sullivan & Gunther (Fourteenth Edition)

    CHAPTER I.


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