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U.S. v. Ballard

322 U.S. 78 (1944)

Facts of the Case:

Guy Ballard was convicted of using and conspiring to use mails to defraud. He was a follower of the 'I Am' movement and believed that the words of St. Germain, the divine messenger, were transmitted through him. Ballard also claimed to possess the power to heal people and claimed to have had success in doing so in the past. He solicited contributions via mail in exchange for offering his healing abilities. The government asserted that he 'well knew' that these claims were false and he used them to defraud others of their money. In the initial trial, the jury was told not to consider Ballard's religious beliefs, instead they were merely to determine whether the defendant believed that he possessed the ability to heal others.


The Court ruled that it was proper for the jury to base its decision on the sincerity of Ballard's beliefs.

Majority Opinion: (Justice Douglas)

The content of the teachings of the 'I Am' movement were immaterial. These beliefs could not be an issue in any case because the content of religious convictions could not be judged as either correct or incorrect. Because of the First Amendment, heresy is an unknown offense in the United States. All that mattered was whether Ballard believed in good faith that he possessed the powers he claimed to have. If this was so, then he must be acquitted.


This decision prevented juries from considering whether a person's religious beliefs were true. So long as the person accepted them in good faith, it is improper for the state to attempt to determine they are logical.


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