The Stone Court (1941–46)

First Amendment

Did the Stone Court allow a religious exemption to child labor laws for Jehovah’s Witnesses?

No, the Stone Court ruled in Prince v. Massachusetts (1944) that Sarah Prince could be punished for allowing her niece to distribute religious pamphlets for sale on the public streets. Massachusetts law prohibited boys under 12 and girls under 18 from selling periodicals in public places. Prince, who was guardian of her 9-year-old niece Betty Simmons, argued she had a religious freedom right to allow Betty to sell religious pamphlets. The state countered that it had a strong interest in protecting children from harm. The Court ruled 5–4 against Prince, writing that “the state has a wide range of power for limiting parental freedom and authority in things affecting the child’s welfare.” The Court focused on the “crippling effects of child employment” in reaching its decision.

Four justices dissented, including Frank Murphy, who believed that the state law unreasonably impacted religious freedom. “The sidewalk, no less than the cathedral or the evangelist’s tent, is a proper place, under the Constitution, for the orderly worship of God.”


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