Joseph Burstyn, Inc. v. Wilson
343 U.S. 495 (1952)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Joseph Burstyn, Inc. v. Wilson, 343 U.S. 495 (1952)

Joseph Burstyn, Inc. v. Wilson

No. 522

Argued April 24, 1952

Decided May 26, 1952

343 U.S. 495

Syllabus

Provisions of the New York Education Law which forbid the commercial showing of any motion picture film without a license and authorize denial of a license on a censor's conclusion that a film is "sacrilegious," held void as a prior restraint on freedom of speech and of the press under the First Amendment, made applicable to the states by the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 343 U. S. 497-506.

1. Expression by means of motion pictures is included within the free speech and free press guaranty of the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Pp. 343 U. S. 499-502.

(a) It cannot be doubted that motion pictures are a significant medium for the communication of ideas. Their importance as an organ of public opinion is not lessened by the fact that they are designed to entertain as well as to inform. P. 343 U. S. 501.

(b) That the production, distribution and exhibition of motion pictures is a large-scale business conducted for private profit does not prevent motion pictures from being a form of expression whose liberty is safeguarded by the First Amendment. Pp. 343 U. S. 501-502.

(c) Even if it be assumed that motion pictures possess a greater capacity for evil, particularly among the youth of a community, than other modes of expression, it does not follow that they are not entitled to the protection of the First Amendment or may be subjected to substantially unbridled censorship. P. 343 U. S. 502.

(d) To the extent that language in the opinion in Mutual Film Corp. v. Industrial Comm'n,236 U. S. 230, is out of harmony with the views here set forth, it is no longer adhered to. P. 343 U. S. 502.

2. Under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, a state may not place a prior restraint on the showing of a motion picture film on the basis of a censor's conclusion that it is "sacrilegious." Pp. 343 U. S. 502-506.

(a) Though the Constitution does not require absolute freedom to exhibit every motion picture of every kind at all times and all places, there is no justification in this case for making an

Page 343 U. S. 496

exception to the basic principles of freedom of expression previously announced by this Court with respect to other forms of expression. Pp. 343 U. S. 502-503.

(b) Such a prior restraint as that involved here is a form of infringement upon freedom of expression to be especially condemned. Near v. Minnesota,283 U. S. 697. Pp. 343 U. S. 503-504.

(c) New York cannot vest in a censor such unlimited restraining control over motion pictures as that involved in the broad requirement that they not be "sacrilegious." Pp. 343 U. S. 504-505.

(d) From the standpoint of freedom of speech and the press, a state has no legitimate interest in protecting any or all religions from views distasteful to them which is sufficient to justify prior restraints upon the expression of those views. P. 343 U. S. 505.

303 N.Y. 242, 101 N.E.2d 665, reversed.

The New York Appellate Division sustained revocation of a license for the showing of a motion picture under § 122 of the New York Education Law on the ground that it was "sacrilegious." 278 App.Div. 253, 104 N.Y.S.2d 740. The Court of Appeals of New York affirmed. 303 N.Y. 242, 101 N.E.2d 665. On appeal to this Court under 28 U.S.C. § 1257(2), reversed, p. 343 U. S. 506.

Page 343 U. S. 497

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