During World War II, the Jehovah's Witness faith community defended its freedom of religion before the U.S. Supreme Court, of which has set precedents for the late 20th and early 21st centuries. What about that one the Watchtower did not win? What precedent has Prince vs. Massachusetts set? This post will detail the history of the Prince case rather than provide a legal analysis as the poster is not an attorney.
Even though she lost the case, Sarah Prince needs to be thanked. Her loosing the case helped set a precedent in protecting children. This case centers around Mrs. Prince taking her niece out in her Watchtower proselytizing work.
Two of the three convictions were upheld. For one, she was charged with breaking a Massachusetts child labor law that reads, "No boy under twelve and no girl under eighteen shall sell, expose or offer for sale any newspapers, magazines, periodicals or any other articles of merchandise of any description, or exercise the trade of bootblack or scavenger, or any other trade, in any street or public place." The rest of the statute prohibited sales to minors for resale or trade, and other legal guardians from forcing a minor to participate in sales or trading.
In a 5-4 decision Justice Rutledge stated that "[t]he family itself is not beyond regulation in the public interest, as against a claim of religious liberty. And neither the rights of religion nor the rights of parenthood are beyond limitation…. The right to practice religion freely does not include the right to expose the community or the child to communicable disease or the latter to ill-health or death..." The Dissenting opinion offered by Justice Murphy said, ""Religious freedom is too sacred a right to be restricted or prohibited in any degree without convincing proof that a legitimate interest of the state is in grave danger."
This Supreme Court case is also significant even though Mrs. Prince's convictions were upheld. Religion is no excuse to mistreat children. Forcing children to go out and preach, and treating child sexual abuse cases as collateral damage must stop. Jehovah's Witnesses are not above the law (Romans 13:1), and children must be protected from this Watchtower abuse
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