Marsh v. Alabama/Dissent Reed

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Mr. Justice REED, dissenting.

Former decisions of this Court have interpreted generously the Constitutional rights of people in this Land to exercise freedom of religion, of speech and of the press. [1] It has never been held and is not now by this opinion of the Court that these rights are absolute and unlimited either in respect to the manner or the place of their exercise. [2] What the present decision establishes as a principle is that one may remain on private property against the will of the owner and contrary to the law of the state so long as the only objection to his presence is that he is exercising an asserted right to spread there his religious views. See Marrone v. Washington Jockey Club, 227 U.S. 633, 33 S.Ct. 401, 57 L.Ed. 679, 43 L.R.A.,N.S., 961. This is the first case to extend by law the privilege of religious exercises beyond public places or to private places without the assent of the owner. Compare Martin v. Struthers, 319 U.S. 141, 63 S.Ct. 862, 87 L.Ed. 1313.

As the rule now announced permits this intrusion, without possibility of protection of the property by law, and apparently is equally applicable to the freedom of speech and the press, it seems appropriate to express a dissent to this, to us, novel Constitutional doctrine. Of course, such principle may subsequently be restricted by this Court to the precise facts of this case-that is to private property in a company town where the owner for his own advantage has permitted a restricted public use by his licensees and invitees. Such distinctions are of degree and require new arbitrary lines, judicially drawn, instead of those hitherto established by legislation and precedent. While the power of this Court, as the interpreter of the Constitution to determine what use of real property by the owner makes that property subject, at will, to the reasonable practice of religious exercises by strangers, cannot be doubted, we find nothing in the principles of the First Amendment, adopted now into the Fourteenth, which justifies their application to the facts of this case. [3]

Both Federal and Alabama law permit, so far as we are aware, company towns. By that we mean an area occupied by numerous houses, connected by passways, fenced or not, as the owners may choose. These communities may be essential to furnish proper and convenient living conditions for employees on isolated operations in lumbering, mining, production of high explosives and large-scale farming. The restrictions imposed by the owners upon the occupants are sometimes galling to the employees and may appear unreasonable to outsiders. Unless they fall under the prohibition of some legal rule, however, they are a matter for adjustment between owner and licensee, or by appropriate legislation. Compare Western Turf Ass'n v. Greenberg, 204 U.S. 359, 27 S.Ct. 384, 51 L.Ed. 520.

Alabama has a statute generally applicable to all privately owned premises. It is Title 14, Section 426, Alabama Code 1940 which so far as pertinent reads as follows:

'Trespass after warning.-Any person who, without legal cause or good excuse, enters into the dwelling house or on the premises of another, after having been warned, within six months preceding, not to do so; or any person, who, having entered into the dwelling house or on the premises of another without having been warned within six months not to do so, and fails or refuses, without legal cause or good excuse, to leave immediately on being ordered or requested to do so by the person in possession, his agent or representative, shall, on conviction, be fined not more than one hundred dollars, and may also be imprisoned in the county jail, or sentenced to hard labor for the county, for not more than three months.'

Appellant was distributing religious pamphlets on a privately owned passway or sidewalk thirty feet removed from a public highway of the State of Alabama and remained on these private premises after an authorized order to get off. We do not understand from the record that there was objection to appellant's use of the nearby public highway and under our decisions she could rightfully have continued her activities a few feet from the spot she insisted upon using. An owner of property may very well have been willing for the public to use the private passway for business purposes and yet have been unwilling to furnish space for street trades or a location for the practice of religious exhortations by itinerants. The passway here in question was not put to any different use than other private passways that lead to privately owned areas, amusement places, resort hotels or other businesses. There had been no dedication of the sidewalk to the public use, express or implied. Alabama so decided and we understand that this Court accepts that conclusion. Alabama, also, decided that appellant violated by her activities the above quoted state statute.

The Court calls attention to the fact that the owners of public utilities, bridges, ferries, turnpikes and railroads are subject to state regulation of rates and are forbidden to discriminate against interstate commerce. This is quite true but we doubt if the Court means to imply that the property of these utilities may be utilized, gainst the companies' wishes for religious exercises of the kind in question.

A state does have the moral duty of furnishing the opportunity for information, education and religious enlightenment to its inhabitants, including those who live in company towns, but it has not heretofore been adjudged that it must commandeer, without compensation, the private property of other citizens to carry out that obligation. Heretofore this Court has sustained the right of employees, under an appropriate statute, protecting full freedom of employee organization, to solicit union membership in nonworking time on the property of an employer and against his express prohibition. This is because the prohibition is an impediment to the right of organization which is protected by a statute which governs a relation between employers and employees if and when the latter are admitted to the employers' premises as licensees. It was recognized in the opinion that the freedom of solicitation was the result of a regulatory statute and was not a Constitutional right. Republic Aviation Corp. v. National Labor Relations Board, 324 U.S. 793, 65 S.Ct. 982, 988, 157 A.L.R. 1081. In the area which is covered by the guarantees of the First Amendment, this Court has been careful to point out that the owner of property may protect himself against the intrusion of strangers. Although in Martin v. Struthers, 319 U.S. 141, 63 S.Ct. 862, 87 L.Ed. 1313, an ordinance forbidding the summonsing of the occupants of a dwelling to receive handbills was held invalid because in conflict with the freedom of speech and press, this Court pointed out at page 147 of 319 U.S., at page 865 of 63 S.Ct., that after warning the property owner would be protected from annoyance. [4] The very Alabama statute which is now held powerless to protect the property of the Gulf Shipbuilding Corporation, after notice, from this trespass was there cited, note 10, to show that it would protect the householder, after notice. The right to communicate ideas was expressed by us in Jamison v. Texas, 318 U.S. 413, 416, 63 S.Ct. 669, 672, 87 L.Ed. 869, as follows: 'But one who is rightfully on a street which the state has left open to the public carries with him there as elsewhere the constitutional right to express his views in an orderly fashion.'

Our Constitution guarantees to every man the right to express his views in an orderly fashion. An essential element of 'orderly' is that the man shall also have a right to use the place he chooses for his exposition. The rights of the owner, which the Constitution protects as well as the right of free speech, are not outweighed by the interests of the trespass r, even though he trespasses in behalf of religion or free speech. We cannot say that Jehovah's Witnesses can claim the privilege of a license, which has never been granted, to hold their meetings in other private places, merely because the owner has admitted the public to them for other limited purposes. Even though we have reached the point where this Court is required to force private owners to open their property for the practice there of religious activities or propaganda distasteful to the owner, because of the public interest in freedom of speech and religion, there is no need for the application of such a doctrine here. Appellant, as we have said, was free to engage in such practices on the public highways, without becoming a trespasser on the company's property.

The CHIEF JUSTICE and Mr. Justice BURTON join in this dissent.


^1  Lovell v. Griffin, 303 U.S. 444, 58 S.Ct. 666, 82 L.Ed. 949; Hague v. C.I.O., 307 U.S. 496, 59 S.Ct. 954, 83 L.Ed. 1423; Schneider v. State, 308 U.S. 147, 60 S.Ct. 146, 84 L.Ed. 155; Thornhill v. Alabama, 310 U.S. 88, 60 S.Ct. 736, 84 L.Ed. 1093; Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296, 60 S.Ct. 900, 84 L.Ed. 1213, 128 A.L.R. 1352; dissent of Chief Justice Stone in Jones v. Opelika, 316 U.S. 584, 600, 62 S.Ct. 1231, 1240, 86 L.Ed. 1691, 141 A.L.R. 514, adopted as the opinion of the Court, 319 U.S. 103, 63 S.Ct. 890, 87 L.Ed. 1290; Jamison v. Texas, 318 U.S. 413, 63 S.Ct. 669, 87 L.Ed. 869; Largent v. Texas, 318 U.S. 418, 63 S.Ct. 667, 87 L.Ed. 873; Murdock v. Pennsylvania, 319 U.S. 105, 63 S.Ct. 870, 891, 87 L.Ed. 1292, 146 A.L.R. 81; Martin v. Struthers, 319 U.S. 141, 63 S.Ct. 862, 87 L.Ed. 1313; Follett v. McCormick, 321 U.S. 573, 64 S.Ct. 717, 88 L.Ed. 938, 152 A.L.R. 317.

^2  Schenck v. United States, 249 U.S. 47, 39 S.Ct. 247, 63 L.Ed. 470; Gitlow v. New York, 268 U.S. 652, 45 S.Ct. 625, 69 L.Ed. 1138; Near v. Minnesota, 283 U.S. 697, 51 S.Ct. 625, 75 L.Ed. 1357; Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296, 60 S.Ct. 900, 84 L.Ed. 1213, 128 A.L.R. 1352; Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 315 U.S. 568, 62 S.Ct. 766, 86 L.Ed. 1031; Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158, 64 S.Ct. 438, 88 L.Ed. 645.

^3  'Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or of the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.' First Amendment to the Constitution.

^4  'The dangers of distribution can so easily be controlled by traditional legal methods, leaving to each householder the full right to decide whether he will receive strangers as visitors, that stringent prohibition can serve no purpose but that forbidden by the Constitution, the naked restriction of the dissemination of ideas.

'Traditionally and American law punishes persons who enter onto the property of another after having been warned by the owner to keep off. General trespass after warning statutes exist in at least twenty states, while similar statutes of narrower scope are on the books of at least twelve states more. We know of no state which, as does the Struthers ordinance in effect, makes a person a criminal trespasser if he enters the property of another for an innocent purpose without an explicit command from the owners to stay away. The National Institute of Municipal Law Officers has proposed a form of regulation to its member cities which would make it an offense for any person to ring the bell of a householder who has appropriately indicated that he is unwilling to be disturbed. This or any similar regulation leaves the decision as to whether distributors of literature may lawfully call at a home where it belongs-with the homeowner himself.' Martin v. Struthers, 319 U.S. 141, 147, 148, 63 S.Ct. 862, 865, 866, 87 L.Ed. 1313.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).