Murdock v. Pennsylvania
319 U.S. 105 (1943)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Murdock v. Pennsylvania, 319 U.S. 105 (1943)

Murdock v. Pennsylvania

No. 480

Argued March 10, 11, 1943

Decided May 3, 1943*

319 U.S. 105

Syllabus

1. A municipal ordinance which, as construed and applied, requires religious colporteurs to pay a license tax as a condition to the pursuit of their activities, is invalid under the Federal Constitution as a denial of freedom of speech, press and religion. Pp. 319 U. S. 108-110.

2. The mere fact that the religious literature is "sold", rather than "donated" does not transform the activities of the colporteur into a commercial enterprise. P. 319 U. S. 111.

3. Upon the record in these cases, it cannot be said that "Jehovah's Witnesses" were engaged in a commercial, rather than in a religious, venture. P. 319 U. S. 111.

4. A State may not impose a charge for the enjoyment of a right granted by the Federal Constitution. P. 319 U. S. 113.

5. The flat license tax here involved restrains in advance the Constitutional liberties of press and religion, and inevitably tends to suppress their exercise. P. 319 U. S. 114.

6. That the ordinance is "nondiscriminatory," in that it applies also to peddlers of wares and merchandise, is immaterial. The liberties guaranteed by the First Amendment are in a preferred position. P. 319 U. S. 115.

7. Since the privilege in question is guaranteed by the Federal Constitution, and exists independently of state authority, the inquiry as to whether the State has given something for which it can ask a return is irrelevant. P. 319 U. S. 115.

8. A community may not suppress, or the State tax, the dissemination of views because they are unpopular, annoying, or distasteful. P. 319 U. S. 116.

Page 319 U. S. 106

9. The assumption that the ordinance has been construed to apply only to solicitation from house to house cannot sustain it, since it is not narrowly drawn to prevent or control abuses or evil arising from that particular type of activity. P. 319 U. S. 117.

149 Pa.Super. 175, 27 A.2d 666, reversed.

CERTIORARI, 318 U.S. 748, to review affirmances of orders in eight cases refusing to allow appeals from judgments and sentences for violations of a municipal ordinance.

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Primary Holding

It is unconstitutional for a state to tax people selling religious merchandise.