Maura Thompson
Court Case 2
Reynolds v. United States
United States Supreme Court
In Utah territory, 1875, George Reynolds, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ and the Latter Day Saints was convicted of bigamy, in which the court proved that Reynolds had married Amelia Jane Schofield after he had already been married to the still living, Mary Ann Tuddenham. Reynolds, along with The Church proposed that convicting him of this crime is a violation of his First Amendment right to freedom to practice religion. Reynolds insisted that the reason for his actions were only in complying with his religious beliefs.
Decision and Rationale:
The Supreme Court and the jurors of the court were to decide if the practicing of religious beliefs constituted as a defense for committing a crime. Reynolds was found guilty of bigamy and sentenced to two years hard labor and a five hundred dollar fine. The Court ruled against the religious defense, stating that "A party's religious belief cannot be accepted as a justification for his committing an overt act, made criminal by the law of the land.” And it has been since that a religious belief does not give permission to break the laws in which have been set before all United States citizens.
Impact on Teaching:
This case sets some regulations for teachers as well. If everyone was allowed to get away with anything in a court of law because of their religious beliefs then any one could say that “I beat this child,” or “I had sex with my student” because it was a part of their religious principles. With the separation of Church and State, the law stops any teacher or student from pushing their religious beliefs on anyone else or for acting in a certain way that is offensive to anyone because of their religion. This goes hand in hand with the Reynolds v. United States case. If a teacher were to beat a child in school and guard herself by saying that it was a part of his/her religious beliefs, her defense would not stand up in a Court of Law because of the Reynolds v. United States case.
Quiz Question:
In the time period of this case is bigamy unlawful only if a spouse is living or if they are deceased as well?

98 U.S. 145



United States

Supreme Court of the United States 1879
Gabrielle Slay

George Reynolds was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, charged with bigamy under the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act after marrying Amelia Jane Schofield while still married to Mary Ann Tuddenham in Utah Territory. Reynolds believed that his actions were of no crime because he was exercising his First Amendment right to practice religion freely. He decided that he would be the person to challenge the Federal government’s attempt to outlaw polygamy.

Reynolds was found guilty by a lower court and decided to appeal to the Supreme Court of the Utah Territory. In his appeal his arguments led to 6 questions: Was the indictment bad because found by a grand jury of less than sixteen persons? Were the challenges of certain petit jurors by the accused improperly overruled? Were the challenges of certain other jurors by the government improperly sustained? Was the testimony of Amelia Jane Scholfield, given at a former trial for the same offence, but under another indictment, improperly admitted in evidence? Should the accused have been acquitted if he married the second time, because he believed it to be his religious duty? Did the court err in that part of the charge which directed the attention of the jury to the consequences of polygamy? In the end the Supreme Court upheld the decision of the lower court that Reynolds was guilty.

Implications to Teaching:
This court case shows that one religion should not be forced on an overall population. Just because it is our religious freedom to do something doesn’t mean that we have the right to do it. Religious practices should stay in private or with fellow worshipers. As teachers we cannot use the excuse that it’s our religious duty to do something in a classroom full of students with different views and their own religions. We as teachers have to remember that the classroom should be a neutral zone and that must be respected.

Quiz Question:
Can religious freedom be used as an excuse to willfully break a law?