United States v. Ballard
322 U.S. 78 (1944)
- Ballard (along with his wife
and son) claimed they could heal sick people if they sent him a donation.
He claimed to have healed hundreds of people who had incurable disease.
- He also collected over $3M
- Ballard died, and his wife and
son were arrested for fraud.
- The Trial Court convicted the
Ballards of fraud. They appealed.
- The jury was instructed to
convict if they found that the Ballards religious claims were not true.
- The prosecutor argued that
the Ballards didn't have any healing powers, and so it was fraud because
they collected money under false pretenses.
- Interestingly, many of
Ballard's followers protested the conviction. At least they felt that
they hadn't been defrauded.
- The Appellate Court overturned
the conviction and remanded for a new trial. The prosecutor appealed.
- The US Supreme Court affirmed.
- The US Supreme Court found
that the question of whether the Ballards' believed their religious
claims should not have been submitted to a jury.
- The Court found that
"freedom of religious belief embraces the right to maintain
theories of life and of death and of the hereafter which are rank heresy
to followers of the orthodox faiths."
- Basically, the Court found
that it didn't matter if Ballard could really heal the sick or not. The
only thing that mattered was whether he believed that he could.
- If Ballard really, honestly
believed he could heal the sick, then it wasn't fraud, even if a
reasonable person would consider Ballard's claims to be ridiculous.
- At a second trial, the
Ballards were again convicted of fraud, even though the question of their
religious beliefs was not given to the jury.