Supreme Court of United States
Argued March 29, 1940 Decided May 20, 1940.


Newton Cantwell and his two sons were members of Jehovah’s Witness. Cantwell and his sons were arrested in New Haven, Connecticut. All men were charged by information on five counts. The three men were going door to door in a neighborhood trying to share their religious beliefs with books and audio tapes. Reportedly, the majority of citizens in New Haven were Catholic. In comparison to a similar case, Schneider v. State (Town of Irvington), 1939, declared that a town ordinance of Milwaukee, Wisconsin stated that “It is hereby made unlawful for any person/ to circulate or distribute any/ printed matter”.


The Supreme Court overturned Cantwell’s convictions and threw out Cantwell’s arrest for breaching the peace. It was ruled that state of Connecticut held too much power in its process to determine the validity of solicitors and the issuance of permits. This permit gave the local ordinance or government the right to decide what was lawful solicitation for the purposed of a religious one or is a bona fide object of charity or philanthropy”. Cantwell had a First Amendment right to express his religious beliefs and to spread his message to others. It was ruled that he had not actually insulted the men and woman he had solicited too and therefore was not breaching the peace. It was clarified that a state may decide the time, place, and manner of solicitation only if it does not treat religions differently.

Impact on Teaching:

The state can only regulate the freedoms of religion equally among all religions. As teachers we need to recognize that our students will come from many religious backgrounds. In class or at recess they will want to express their religious beliefs to their peers. It is our job as teachers to allow them to do so, not only because of their First Amendment rights, but for the students to learn from one another’s different backgrounds. Students have this right of expression and we need to give that right equally to all our students.

Applicable Quiz Question:

True or False: Section one of the fourteenth amendment states that, no State shall deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.

Significance: The Court made it clear that states must recognize the freedom of religion as laid out in the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.

By: Lindsey Little and Mariah Kerlick