Cercle d'Etude de Réformes Féministes


Face aux obscurantismes (l'islamiste et les autres) : le Devoir de Liberté










AMENDMENT 1 Freedom of Religion, Speech, and Assembly

Passed by Congress September 25, 1789. Ratified December 15, 1791.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. [^].




Supreme Court Decisions on Religious Liberty

310 U.S. 296 (1940)


"One recording calls the Catholic Church an instrument of Satan."

Connecticut, 1938. Newton Cantwell and his two sons are Jehovah's Witness ministers. They go door to door, passing out pamphlets, selling books, asking for contributions, and playing phonograph records. One recording calls the Catholic Church an instrument of Satan. This doesn't play well in a Catholic section of New Haven. The Cantwells are arrested for soliciting religious donations without a state certificate.

The state claims this certification protects the public against fraud. But a unanimous Supreme Court rules it also violates the First Amendment's "free exercise of religion" clause. "The people of this nation have ordained," write Justice Roberts, "that, in spite of the probability of excesses and abuses, these liberties are essential to enlightened opinion and right conduct on the part of the citizens of a democracy."


Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296 (1940) (USSC+)


 1. The fundamental concept of liberty embodied in the Fourteenth Amendment embraces the liberties guaranteed by the First Amendment. P. 303 .

 2. The enactment by a State of any law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof is forbidden by the Fourteenth Amendment. P. 303 .

 3. Under the constitutional guaranty, freedom of conscience and of religious belief is absolute; although freedom to act in the exercise of religion is subject to regulation for the protection of society. Such regulation, however, in attaining a permissible end, must not unduly infringe the protected freedom. Pp. 303-304 .

 4. A state statute which forbids any person to solicit money or valuables for any alleged religious cause, unless a certificate therefor shall first have been procured from a designated official, who is required to determine whether such cause is a religious one and who may withhold his approval if he determines that it is not, is a previous restraint upon the free exercise of religion, and a deprivation of liberty without due process of law in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. P. 304 .

 So held as it was applied to persons engaged in distributing literature purporting to be religious, and soliciting contributions to be used for the publication of such literature.

 A State constitutionally may, by general and nondiscriminatory legislation, regulate the time, place and manner of soliciting upon its streets, and of holding meetings thereon, and may in other respects safeguard the peace, good order and comfort of the community. [p*297] The statute here, however, is not such a regulation. If a certificate is issued, solicitation is permitted without other restriction; but if a certificate is denied, solicitation is altogether prohibited.

 5. The fact that arbitrary or capricious action by the licensing officer is subject to judicial review cannot validate the statute. A previous restraint by judicial decision after trial is as obnoxious under the Constitution as restraint by administrative action. P. 306 .

 6. The common law offense of breach of the peace may be committed not only by acts of violence, but also by acts and words likely to produce violence in others. P. 308 .

 7. Defendant, while on a public street endeavoring to interest passerby in the purchase of publications, or in making contributions, in the interest of what he believed to be true religion, induced individuals to listen to the playing of a phonograph record describing the publications. The record contained a verbal attack upon the religious denomination of which the listeners were members, provoking their indignation and a desire on their part to strike the defendant, who thereupon picked up his books and phonograph and went on his way. There was no showing that defendant's deportment was noisy, truculent, overbearing, or offensive; nor was it claimed that he intended to insult or affront the listeners by playing the record; nor was it shown that the sound of the phonograph disturbed persons living nearby, drew a crowd, or impeded traffic.

 Held, that defendant's conviction of the common law offense of breach of the peace was violative of constitutional guarantees of religious liberty and freedom of speech. Pp. 307 et seq.


Mr. Justice ROBERTS, delivered the opinion of the Court.


In the realm of religious faith, and in that of political belief, sharp differences arise. In both fields the tenets of one man may seem the rankest error to his neighbor. To persuade others to his own point of view, the pleader, as we know, at times, resorts to exaggeration, to vilification of men who have been, or are, prominent in church or state, and even to false statement. But the people of this nation have ordained in the light of history, that, in spite of the probability of excesses and abuses, these liberties are, in the long view, essential to enlightened opinion and right conduct on the part of the citizens of a democracy.


The essential characteristic of these liberties is, that under their shield many types of life, character, opinion and belief can develop unmolested and unobstructed. Nowhere is this shield more necessary than in our own country for a people composed of many races and of many creeds. There are limits to the exercise of these liberties. The danger in these times from the coercive activities of those who in the delusion of racial or religious conceit would incite violence and breaches of the peace in order to deprive others of their equal right to the exercise of their liberties, is emphasized by events familiar to all. These and other transgressions of those limits the states appropriately may punish.


Although the contents of the record not unnaturally aroused animosity, we think that, in the absence of a statute narrowly drawn to define and punish specific conduct as constituting a clear and present danger to a substantial interest of the State, the petitioner's communication, considered in the light of the constitutional guarantees, raised no such clear and present menace to public peace and order as to render him liable to conviction of the common law offense in question.






Dans le royaume de la foi religieuse, et dans celui de la croyance politique, des différences aigues s'élèvent. Dans les deux domaines les dogmes d'un homme semblent les plus absolues erreurs à son voisin. Pour persuader les autres de son propre point de vue, le plaideur, comme nous le savons, recourt à l'exagération, au dénigrement d'hommes qui ont été, ou sont, des personnalités d' église ou d'Etat, et même, à la fausse affirmation. Mais le peuple de cette Nation ont décidé, à la lumière de l'histoire, que, en dépit de la probabilité d'excès et d'abus, ces libertés sont, dans un horizon long, essentielles à une opinion éclairée et à une juste conduite de la part des citoyens d'une démocratie.


La caractéristique essentielle de ces libertés est que, sous leur bouclier, différents types de vie, caractère, opinion et croyance peuvent se développer, sans blessure et sans obstruction. Nulle part ce bouclier n'est plus nécessaire que dans notre propre peuple, composé de nombreuses races et de nombreux  credos. Il y a des limites à ces libertés. Le danger en notre temps des actes de coercition de ceux qui dans l'illusion de vanités raciales ou religieuses voudraient inciter à la violence et briser la paix afin de priver d'autres de leurs droits égaux à l'exercice de leurs libertés, est mis en lumière par des évènements connus de tous. Cela et d'autres transgressions de ces limites, peuvent être punies de manière appropriée.







Les excès de liberté d’expression - dans le domaine religieux - sont bien envisagés ici : exagérations, dénigrement, et même fausses affirmations. Pourtant le juge ne semble pas envisager un seul instant que les citoyen-nes de « cette nation » soient fragiles au point de ne pouvoir y faire face, à moins qu’elle ne dégénère en menace de violence. Les citoyen-nes ont la force de faire face aux excès de la liberté d’expression. Grâce à la liberté d’expression. C’est pourquoi ils peuvent vivre libres sous son « bouclier ».

great !