Petitioners were members of the religious sect "Jehovah's Witnesses," who "sold" and/ or donated religious tracts and literature, and in connection therewith used phonographs and records, in their door to door activities to spread their religious beliefs. They failed to obtain a license for the privilege of canvassing and soliciting, as required of all persons by an ordinance of the city of Jeannette, Pennsylvania, and were convicted and fined for violation thereof. Petitions for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania were denied; the case came before the United States Supreme Court on petition for writ of certiorari. It was contended by petitioners that one of the tenets of their faith was that they should teach "publickly, and from house to house," and that the ordinance in question was an unconstitutional restriction upon their right of freedom of speech, press and religion. Held (four justices dissenting), that the judgment in Jones v. Opelika is vacated; that a person cannot be compelled "to purchase, through a license fee or a license tax, the privilege freely granted by the constitution"; and that the ordinance of the city of Jeannette is unconstitutional as construed and applied to require religious colporteurs to pay a license tax as a condition of the distribution of religious literature and the spreading of their beliefs. Murdock v. Pennsylvania, (U.S. 1943) 63 S.Ct. 870.
Michigan Law Review,
CONSTITUTIONAL LAW-RIGHT TO IMPOSE A LICENSE TAX UPON DISSEMINATION OF RELIGIOUS LITERATURE - JONES v. OPELIKA REVERSED,
Mich. L. Rev.
Available at: https://repository.law.umich.edu/mlr/vol42/iss1/12