CANTWELL v. STATE OF CONNECTICUT
Jesse Cantwell and his son were Jehovah's Witnesses; they were proselytizing a predominantly Catholic neighborhood in Connecticut. The Cantwells distributed religious materials by travelling door-to-door and by approaching people on the street. After voluntarily hearing an anti-Roman Catholic message on the Cantwells' portable phonograph, two pedestrians reacted angrily. The Cantwells were subsequently arrested for violating a local ordinance requiring a permit for solicitation and for inciting a breach of the peace.
Did the solicitation statute or the "breach of the peace" ordinance violate the Cantwells' First Amendment free speech or free exercise rights?
Yes. In a unanimous decision, the Court held that while general regulations on solicitation were legitimate, restrictions based on religious grounds were not. Because the statute allowed local officials to determine which causes were religious and which ones were not, it violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The Court also held that while the maintenance of public order was a valid state interest, it could not be used to justify the suppression of "free communication of views." The Cantwells' message, while offensive to many, did not entail any threat of "bodily harm" and was protected religious speech.