Marsh v. Alabama Case Brief

Why is the case important?

Marsh, a Jehovah’s Witness, was arrested for trespassing after attempting to distribute religious literature in a privately owned Alabama town.

Facts of the case

Grace Marsh, a Jehovah’s Witness, attempted to distribute religious literature on the sidewalk near a post office in Chickasaw, Alabama. The Gulf Shipbuilding Corporation owned Chickasaw, Alabama in its entirety as a company town. Marsh was convicted of criminal trespass. Appealing her conviction, Marsh argued that the state law violated the First Amendment.

Question

Is the Constitution applicable to privately owned towns?

Answer

Yes, it applies, because the town acts like a government body. The Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) first recognizes that if Chickasaw had been a municipality the anti-trespassing statute would not be unconstitutional. The Supreme Court specifically states that a private town is not the same as a private homeowner. Meaning, it is not appropriate to suppress unwanted religious expression in the town like it would be in a private home.

Conclusion

Whether a corporation or a municipality owned or possessed the town the public had an identical interest in the functioning of the community. The managers of a company-owned town could not curtail the liberty of press and religion of its public consistently with the purposes of the constitutional guarantees and that a state statute which enforced such actions by criminally punishing those who attempted to distribute religious literature violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

  • Case Brief: 1945
  • Petitioner: Grace Marsh
  • Respondent: State of Alabama
  • Decided by: Stone Court

Citation: 326 US 501 (1945)
Argued: Dec 6, 1945
Decided: Jan 7, 1945