Blasphemy and Profane Speech
These are First Amendment cases related to free speech and blasphemy or profane speech. Blasphemy laws have disappeared in the United States, but their remnants led to some early cases involving the First Amendment.
A New Jersey jury in 1887 convicted a former Methodist minister for
blasphemy despite a passion defense by leading attorney and freethinker
Robert Ingersoll, who argued blasphemy laws enslaved the human mind
In Burstyn v. Wilson (1952), the Supreme Court said a New York law allowing
a film to be banned on the basis of its being sacrilegious violated the
Commonwealth v. Kneeland (Mass. 1838) was the last case in the United
States in which a court sustained a conviction for blasphemy. Blasphemy is
protected by the First Amendment.
People v. Ruggles (1811) is one of the few convictions for blasphemy in the
U.S. despite a state constitution provision, similar to the First
Amendment, disestablishing religion.
In early America, blasphemy was not protected by the First Amendment. State
v. Chandler (Del. 1837) reasoned that blasphemy laws punished disturbances
of the peace, not beliefs.
In 1824, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld a blasphemy conviction
against a man who said the Bible was full of fables and lies. In Updegraph
v. Commonwealth, the court reasoned that Christianity was part of common
law, and the law only punished those who disturbed the peace or provoked
others to the same.