Cox v. New Hampshire, 312 U.S. 569; 61 S. Ct. 762; 85 L. Ed. 1049 (1941)

Cox v. New Hampshire, 312 U.S. 569; 61 S. Ct. 762; 85 L. Ed. 1049 (1941)

Facts—Cox, a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, was convicted of violating a city ordinance of the city of Manchester, New Hampshire, that forbade any parade or procession upon a public street unless a license had been obtained from the selectmen of the town. Cox said that he and the defendants did not have a permit, but they also claimed that this ordinance was invalid under the Fourteenth Amendment of the federal Constitution in that it deprived the appellants of their right of freedom of worship, freedom of speech and press, and freedom of assembly, vested unreasonable and unlimited arbitrary and discriminatory powers in the licensing authority, and was vague and indefinite. Each of the defendants claimed to be a minister ordained to preach the gospel in accordance with his belief.

Question—Is this ordinance a valid exercise of the police power of the state and not in conflict with the Constitution?


ReasonsC.J. Hughes (9–0). This ordinance is not designed to deprive Cox of freedom of worship but to govern the use of public streets. Cox and the demonstrators were not prosecuted for anything other than that. Civil liberties, as guaranteed by the Constitution, imply the existence of an organized society maintaining public order, without which liberty itself would be lost in the excess of unrestrained abuses. The use of the power of the local authorities is not inconsistent with civil liberties but a means of safeguarding them. Licensing was necessary to afford opportunity for proper policing. “One would not be justified in ignoring the familiar red traffic light because he thought it his religious duty to disobey the municipal command or sought by that means to direct public attention to an announcement of his opinion.

. . . We find it impossible to say that the limited authority conferred by the licensing provisions of the statute in question as thus construed by the state court contravened any constitutional right.”

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