The Constitutional Principle: Separation of Church and State
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Church and State Issues Go to Court

State and U.S. Supreme Court Cases 1799-1947

Many of the state Supreme Court cases listed here are cases that David Barton cited and frequently misrepresented in his book The Myth of Separation, in some of his video tapes and, in some instances, in his book Original Intent.

Research and writing by Jim Allison

This list was assembled from The Myth of Separation by David Barton and from Church and State in the United States (Revised one-volume Edition) by Anson Phelps Stokes (1874-1958) and Leo Pfeffer* (1910-1993). See the Source column to determine who cites the case. "B" is for Barton, "P" is for Stokes & Pfeffer.

Detailed information is being added to the website for each case. To access the additional information, click the case cite.

Date Source Court Case Cite Description
1799 B MD Runkel v Winemiller, 4 Harris & McHenry 276 Conflict between minister and his church (cited 2 times in The Myth of Separation)
1799 B MD John M'Creery's Lessee v Allender, 4 H & Mett. 259 Will probate (cited 2 times in The Myth of Separation)
1811 B NY The People v Ruggles, 8 Johns 545 Blasphemy case (cited 12 times in The Myth of Separation)
1815 P U.S. Terrett v Taylor, 9 Cr. 43 First case to reach Supreme Court in the realm of church/state. Decision written by Joseph Story.
1815 B PA The Commonwealth v Sharpless, 2 Serg & R. 91 Porno ???? case (cited 6 times in The Myth of Separation)
1817 B PA The Commonwealth v Wolf, 3 Serg. & R. 48 Sabbath case (cited 2 times in The Myth of Separation)
1824 B PA Updegraph v Commonwealth, 11 Serg. & R. (Pa) 394 Blasphemy case (cited 13 times in The Myth of Separation)
1838 B MA Commonwealth v Abner Kneeland, 37 Mass. (20 Pick) 206 Blasphemy case (cited 5 times in The Myth of Separation)
1844 P / B U.S. Vidal v Girard's Executors, 2 How. 127 Will Probate. Joseph Story wrote the opinion. (cited 5 times in The Myth of Separation)
1845 P U.S. Permoli v First Municipality of New Orleans, 3 How. 589 Supreme Court dismissed the appeal saying that since Louisiana had become a state, it had no jurisdiction. Had Louisiana still been a territory, it would have had jurisdiction.
1846 B SC City of Charleston v Benjamin, 2 Strob. 508 Sabbath violation (cited 7 times in The Myth of Separation)
1872 P U.S. Watson v Jones, 13 Wall 679 S C said it had no power to decide which of the two factions of the Presbyterian church was correct.
1878 P U.S. Reynolds v U S, 98 U.S. 145 First of the Mormon cases and was decided under civil law, First mention of Jefferson's metaphor (Wall of Separation)
1885 B U.S. Murphey v Ramsey, 144 U.S. 15 Another of the Mormon cases (cited 3 times in The Myth of Separation)
1890 P / B U.S. Davis v Beason, 133 U.S. 333 Basically part of the overall Mormon cases Bigamy polygamy cases followed the Reynolds reasoning i.e., civil law. (cited 5 times in The Myth of Separation)
1890 P U.S. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints v US, 136 U.S. 1 Last of the Mormon cases
1892 P / B U.S. Church of the Holy Trinity v U.S., 143 U.S. 266 Immigration case (cited 20 times in The Myth of Separation)
1899 P U.S. Bradfield v Roberts, 175 U.S. 599 District of Columbia entered into a contract with a Catholic Hospital to help fund building buildings on the hospital grounds and to pay a certain amount for each poor patient taken and treated by the hospital. A taxpayer had filed suit claiming violation of the 1st Amendment.
A look at additional 19th century cases that add insight and balance to the material above including Bloom v Cornelius (Ohio Supreme Court, 1853); Board of Education of the City of Cincinnati, plaintiff in error, v Minor (Ohio Supreme Court, 1872)
1905 P U.S. Jacobson v Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11 Upheld a Massachusetts vaccination statute compelling all citizens to be vaccinated
1908 P U.S. Quick Bear V Leupp, 210 U.S. 50 Upheld the use of treaty and other funds held by the federal government as trustee could be legally disbursed to private religious schools at the designation of the Indians as tuition.
1918 P U.S. Arver v U S, 245 U.S. 366 Selective draft law of 1917 exempted ministers, theological students and members of some religious denominations
1923 P U.S. Meyer v Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390 Teaching anything other then English in private religious schools
1930 P U.S. Cochran v. Louisiana STATE BD OF ED, 281 U.S. 370 Secular textbooks
1931 P / B U.S. U.S. v Macintosh, 283 U.S. 605 Citizenship of a Canadian who was a Baptist minister
1934 P U.S. Hamilton v Regents of the U of California, 293 U.S. 245 Students expelled because they refused on religious grounds to take required courses in military science and tactics.
1938 P U.S. Lovell v Griffin, 303 U.S. 444 Jehovah's Witness case
1939 P U.S. Schneider v Irvington, New Jersey, 308 U.S. 147 Another Jehovah's Witness case
1940 P U.S. Cantwell v Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296 Jehovah's Witness case, first case to apply the free exercise clause to the states
1940 P U.S. Minersville School District v Gobitis, 310 U.S. 586 Refusal to salute the flag
1941 P U.S. Cox v New Hampshire, 312 U.S. 569 Marches and leaflets
1942 P U.S. Chaplinsky v New Hampshire, 315 U.S. 568 Offensive language addressed to another
1942 P U.S. Jones v City of Opelika, 316 U.S. 584 License on book selling
1943 P U.S. Murdock v Pennsylvania, 319 U.S. 105 License but court refused to follow Jones v City of Opelika
1943 P U.S. Jones v City of Opelika, 319 U.S. 103 Set aside the Jones v City of Opelika
1943 P U.S. Martin v City of Struthers, 319 U.S. 1451 Door to door religious soliciting
1943 P U.S. West Virginia State Bd of Ed. v Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 Saluting the flag
1943 P U.S. Taylor v Mississippi, 319 U.S. 583 Felony to preach or teach anything that designed to encourage violence
1943 P U.S. Jamison v Texas, 318 U.S. 413 Distribution of handbills
1944 P U.S. United States v Ballard, 322 U.S. 78 "I am" movement
1944 P U.S. Prince v Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158 Children under 12 helping to distribute literature of the Jehovah's Witness
1945 P U.S. Follett v Town of McCormick, 321 U.S. 573 Tax on soliciting orders for religious literature
1945 P U.S. In re Summers, 325 U.S. 561 Upheld constitutional power of a state to refuse to admit to the bar a qualified applicant who was a conscientious objector
1946 P U.S. Girouard v United States, 328 U.S. 61 Refusal to bear arms
1946 P U.S. Marsh v Alabama, 326 U.S. 501 Jehovah's Witness private property case
1947 P U.S. Everson v Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1 Application of establishment clause to states
A look at two additional 20th century cases that are misrepresented in some of Barton's publications: Reed v. Van Hoven 237 F Supp.48 (W. D. Mich, 1965) and DeSpain v DeKalb County Community School District 255 F. Supp. 655 (N. D. Ill. 1966)


* Leo Pfeffer, 1910-1993, was a highly regarded constitutional lawyer who argued cases before the Supreme Court. He was on the staff of the American Jewish Congress from 1945 to 1964 and became the director of its Commission on Law and Social Action in 1957. After 1964, Mr. Pfeffer continued to do legal work for the congress as special counsel. Mr Pfeffer taught at the New School, Mount Holyoke College, Yeshiva University and Long Island University. At the request of the Anson Phelps Stokes estate, he updated and reedited Stokes Church and State in the United States. He later issued God, Caesar and the Constitution: The Court as Referee of Church-State Confrontation, published by Beacon Press as well as many other books and articles. In 1988, he was named Humanist of the Year by the American Humanist Association.

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