Follett v. Town of McCormick, S.C.
Decided on Mar. 27, 1944; 321 US 573


I. ISSUES II. CASE SUMMARY III. AMICI CURIAE IV. DECISION V. WIN OR LOSS?
I. ISSUES:

A. Issues Discussed: Freedom of religion

B. Legal Question Presented:

Is a flat license tax as applied to one who earns his livelihood as an evangelist or preacher in his home town constitutional?

II. CASE SUMMARY:

A. Background:

The Appellant, an ordained minister of the Jehovah God, was convicted of violating an ordinance of the town of McCormick which provides for a flat license tax on "agents selling books."

"He is a resident of McCormick, South Carolina, where he went from house to house distributing certain books. He obtained his living from the money received; he had no other source of income... Admittedly he had no license from the town and refused to obtain one... [He claimed] that the ordinance restricted freedom of worship in violation of the First Amendment which the Fourteenth Amendment makes applicable to the States." 

Appellant was found guilty by a jury in the Mayor's Court and the judgment was ultimately affirmed by the Supreme Court of South Carolina. On appeal the US Supreme Court reversed.
B. Counsel of Record:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Unavailable Unavailable
C. The Arguments:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Unavailable Unavailable
III. AMICI CURIAE:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Mr. Hayden, C. Covington, of Brooklyn, N.Y., for appellant. Messrs. J. Fred Buzhardt, of McCormick, S.C., and Jeff D. Griffith, of Saluda, S.C., for appellee.
IV. THE SUPREME COURT'S DECISION:

"We stated [in Jones v. Opelika] that an 'itinerant evangelist' did not become 'a mere book agent by selling the Bible or religious tracts to help defray his expenses or to sustain him.' Freedom of religion is not merely reserved for those with a long purse. Preachers of the more orthodox faiths are not engaged in commercial undertakings because they are dependent on their calling for a living...

This does not mean that religious undertakings must be subsidized. The exemption from a license tax of a preacher who preaches or a parishioner who listens does not mean that either is free from all financial burdens of government, including taxes on income or property... But to say that they like other citizens may be subject to general taxation does not mean that they can be required to pay a tax for the exercise of that which the First Amendment has made a high constitutional privilege."

The US Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Supreme Court of South Carolina.
Justice Vote: 6 Pro vs. 3 Con

  • Douglas, W.Pro (Wrote majority opinion)
  • Reed, S. Pro (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • Murphy, F. Pro (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • Rutledge, W. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Black, H. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Stone, H. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Roberts, O. Con (Wrote dissenting opinion)
  • Frankfurter, f. Con (Wrote dissenting opinion)
  • Jackson, R. Con (Wrote dissenting opinion)
V. A WIN OR LOSS FOR THE ACLU?

The ACLU, as amicus curiae, urged reversal of the judgment the Supreme Court of South Carolina; the Supreme Court reversed in a 6-3 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent win.