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Cantwell v. Connecticut

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Significance: The Supreme Court broadly interpreted the religious exercise clause of the First Amendment and held that the clause was applicable to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment.


Newton Cantwell, an active member of the Jehovah's Witnesses, went door to door trying to make converts. A few people complained about his diatribes against the Catholic Church. Cantwell was arrested and convicted for violating a state law that required a license for soliciting funds. By a 9-0 vote, the Supreme Court reversed the conviction and invalidated the law. Justice Owen J. Roberts's opinion for the Court emphasized that the Constitution protected religious conduct such as proselytizing. He wrote that a state may reasonably regulate the time, place, and manner of activities to prevent fraud or disorder, but it cannot entirely forbid unpopular conduct. The Connecticut law constituted a form of religious censorship because it gave public officials excessive discretion for approving or rejecting applications for licenses.