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LARGENT v. TEXAS

decided: March 8, 1943.

LARGENT
v.
TEXAS



APPEAL FROM THE COUNTY COURT OF LAMAR COUNTY, TEXAS.

Stone, Roberts, Black, Reed, Frankfurter, Douglas, Murphy, Jackson; Rutledge took no part in the consideration of decision of this case.

Author: Reed

[ 318 U.S. Page 418]

 MR. JUSTICE REED delivered the opinion of the Court.

This appeal brings here for review the conviction of appellant for violation of Ordinance No. 612 of the City of Paris, Texas, which makes it unlawful for any person to solicit orders or to sell books, wares or merchandise within the residence portion of Paris without first filing an application and obtaining a permit. The ordinance goes on to provide that

[ 318 U.S. Page 419]

     "if after investigation the Mayor deems it proper or advisable he may issue a written permit to said person for the purpose of soliciting, selling, canvassing or census taking within the residence portion of the city which permit shall state on its face that it has been issued after a thorough investigation."*fn1

A complaint in the Corporation Court of Paris charged Mrs. Largent, the appellant, with violating this ordinance by unlawfully offering books for sale without making application for a permit. She was convicted and appealed to the County Court of Lamar County, Texas, where a trial de novo was had.*fn2 There a motion was filed to quash the

[ 318 U.S. Page 420]

     complaint because the ordinance violated the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States; and, at the conclusion of the evidence, there was filed a motion on the same grounds for a finding of not guilty and the discharge of the appellant from custody. Both were overruled.

Appellant's evidence shows that she carries a card of ordination from the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, an organization incorporated for the purpose of preaching the Gospel of God's Kingdom. The Society is an organization for Jehovah's Witnesses, an evangelical group, founded upon and drawing inspiration from the tenets of Christianity. The Witnesses spread their teachings under the direction of the Society by distributing the books and pamphlets obtained from the Society by house to house visits. They believe that they have a covenant with Jehovah to enlighten the people as to the truths accepted by the Witnesses by putting into their hands, for study, various religious publications with titles such as Children, Hope, Consolation, Kingdom News, Deliverance, Government and Enemies.

Mrs. Largent offered some of these books to those upon whom she called for a contribution of not to exceed 25 cents for a bound book and several magazines or tracts. If the contribution was not made, the appellant, in accordance with the custom of the Witnesses, would frequently leave a book and tracts without receiving any money. Appellant was making such distributions when arrested. She had not filed an application for or received a permit under the ordinance.

The Witnesses look upon their work as Christian and charitable. To them it is not selling books or papers but accepting contributions to further the work in which they are engaged. The prosecuting officer contended that ...


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