The Religious Freedom Page

Jones v. City of Opelika

316 U.S. 584 (1942)

Facts of the Case:

The city of Opelika charged Jones with violating a statute by selling books without a license. All licenses were subject to immediate revocation by the city without requiring advance notice. Jones, a Jehovah’s Witness alleged that this violated both his rights to freedoms of the press and religion.


The Court upheld the statute because it only covered individuals engaged in an commercial activity rather than a religious ritual.

Majority Opinion: (Justice Reed)

Individual rights must be balanced against competing rights of the state. The fact that a person is engaged in disseminating religious materials does not place his action above regulation by the state. “[W]hen, as in these cases, the practitioners of these noble callings choose to utilize the vending of their religious books and tracts as a source of funds, the financial aspects of their transactions need not be wholly disregarded. To subject any religious or didactic group to a reasonable fee for their money-making activities does not require a finding that the licensed acts are purely commercial. It is enough that money is earned by the sale of articles.” When traditional means of distribution are used by religious groups, they can be held to the same standards as non-religious groups. Because Jones did not have a license revoked arbitrarily by the state he has no standing to challenge that part of the statute.


This decision forces religious groups to meet the same requirements as non-religious groups engaged in a similar activity. The fact that they are selling religious materials does not exempt them from statutes regulating commercial acts.


Copyright © The Religious Freedom Page.