United States v. Ballard
322 U.S. 78 (1944)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Ballard, 322 U.S. 78 (1944)

United States v. Ballard

No. 472

Argued March 3, 6, 1944

Decided April 24, 1944

322 U.S. 78

Syllabus

Upon an indictment charging use of the mails to defraud, and conspiracy so to do, respondents were convicted in the District Court. The indictment charged a scheme to defraud through representations -- involving respondents' religious doctrines or beliefs -- which were alleged to be false and known by the respondents to be false. Holding that the District Court had restricted the jury to the issue of respondents' good faith and that this was error, the Circuit Court of Appeals reversed and granted a new trial.

Held:

1. The only issue submitted to the jury by the District Court was whether respondents believed the representations to be true. P. 322 U. S. 84.

2. Respondents did not acquiesce in the withdrawal from the jury of the issue of the truth of their religious doctrines or beliefs, and are not barred by the rule of Johnson v. United States, 318 U. S. 189, from reasserting here that no part of the indictment should have been submitted to the jury. P. 322 U. S. 85.

3. The District Court properly withheld from the jury all questions concerning the truth or falsity of respondents' religious beliefs or doctrines. This course was required by the First Amendment's guarantee of religious freedom. P. 322 U. S. 86.

The preferred position given freedom of religion by the First Amendment is not limited to any particular religious group or to any particular type of religion but applies to all. P. 322 U. S. 87.

4. Respondents may urge in support of the judgment of the Circuit Court of Appeals points which that court reserved, but, since these were not fully presented here either in the briefs or oral argument, they may more appropriately be considered by that court upon remand. P. 322 U. S. 88.

138 F.2d 540 reversed.

Certiorari, 320 U.S. 733, to review the reversal of convictions for using the mails to defraud and conspiracy.

Page 322 U. S. 79

Primary Holding
Whether a religious belief is true or false is irrelevant to a judicial determination, as long as the belief is sincerely held.
Facts
Ballard promoted his personal religious beliefs and doctrines through the I AM movement. One of his principles was that he had the supernatural ability to heal people of diseases. He formed businesses, solicited funds, distributed literature, and solicited memberships in his movement, all to support his beliefs. The government charged Ballard with mail fraud, but the jury was not required to evaluate whether his claims were true or false.

Opinions

Majority

  • William Orville Douglas (Author)
  • Hugo Lafayette Black
  • Stanley Forman Reed
  • Frank Murphy
  • Wiley Blount Rutledge

The Establishment Clause prevents the law from evaluating any dogma or sect, and American society is based on religious freedom. People are allowed to believe what cannot be verified.

Dissent

  • Robert Houghwout Jackson (Author)

The indictment should have been dismissed because prosecuting religious figures for fraud based on false representations regarding matters of faith could lead to religious prosecution. However, a fraud charge might be appropriate if the religious leader had made false statements on matters unrelated to faith.

Dissent

  • Harlan Fiske Stone (Author)
  • Owen Josephus Roberts
  • Felix Frankfurter

Case Commentary

A citizen of the U.S. can practice and promote any religion of his or her choice, even if it is not commonly accepted or seems likely to cause public confusion.

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