Marsh v. Alabama
326 U.S. 501 (1946)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Marsh v. Alabama, 326 U.S. 501 (1946)

Marsh v. Alabama

No. 114

Argued December 6, 1945

Decided January 7, 1946

326 U.S. 501

Syllabus

1. A state can not, consistently with the freedom of religion and the press guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments, impose criminal punishment on a person for distributing religious literature on the sidewalk of a company-owned town contrary to regulations of the town's management, where the town and its shopping district are freely accessible to and freely used by the public in general, even though the punishment is attempted under a state statute making it a crime for anyone to enter or remain on the premises of another after having been warned not to do so. Pp. 326 U. S. 502, 326 U. S. 505.

Page 326 U. S. 502

2. Whether a corporation or a municipality owns or possesses a town, the public in either case has an identical interest in the functioning of the community in such manner that the channels of communication remain free. P. 326 U. S. 507.

3. People living in company-owned towns are free citizens of their State and country, just as residents of municipalities, and there is no more reason for depriving them of the liberties guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments than there is for curtailing these freedoms with respect to any other citizen. P. 326 U. S. 508.

21 So.2d 558, reversed.

APPEAL from the affirmance of a conviction for violation of a state statute challenged as invalid under the Federal Constitution. The State Supreme Court denied certiorari, 246 Ala. 539, 21 So.2d 564.

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Primary Holding

The First Amendment prohibits a law against distributing religious literature in a company-owned town without receiving permission from the town's management because this is essentially state action.

Facts

The Gulf Shipbuilding Corporation owned Chickasaw, Alabama in its entirety as a company town. It resembled any other American town in other respects. Marsh distributed literature supporting her beliefs as a Jehovah's Witness in the streets of Chickasaw without obtaining permission from Gulf. Under the Alabama law of criminal trespass, she was prohibited from remaining on the premises of another private party after having been warned to leave, which she had been. Appealing her conviction, Marsh argued that the state law violated the First Amendment.

Opinions

Majority

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

Any municipal ordinance that prohibited distributing religious literature in a public street clearly would violate the First Amendment. A company town does not have the same rights a private homeowner in preventing unwanted religious expression on his property. While the town is owned by a private company, it is open for use by the public and thus becomes limited by the constitutional rights of the people there, who are entitled to the freedoms of speech and religion. Conflicts between property rights and constitutional rights generally must be resolved in favor of the latter.

Concurrence

  • Felix Frankfurter (Author)

Dissent

  • Stanley Forman Reed (Author)
  • Harold Hitz Burton
  • Harlan Fiske Stone

Recused

  • Robert Houghwout Jackson (Author)

Case Commentary

State action can be imputed to private entities that have taken over traditional state functions, as is the case with a company town. It also can be found when a state has facilitated or validated the conduct, or become so intertwined with the private entity that there is no longer any perceptible separation.

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