Marsh was on a sidewalk in the
town of Chickasaw Alabama, which was located completely on private land.
She tried to distribute some religious literature, and was told that she
was not allowed to do that without permission of the company that owned
the land (Gulf Shipbuilding Corp.).
Although the land was on
private property, the company generally allowed anyone access to the streets
and businesses. It did not outwardly appear to be private property.
Marsh refused to leave and was
arrested for trespassing.
Marsh argued that it was a
violation of her 1st Amendment right to freedom of speech.
The prosecutor argued that
Constitutional guarantees did not apply because the sidewalk Marsh was
standing on was private property.
The Trial Court convicted
Marsh of trespassing. She appealed.
The Appellate Court affirmed
the conviction. Marsh appealed.
The US Supreme Court
overturned the conviction.
The US Supreme Court found
that Constitutional protections of free speech still apply within the
confines of a town owned by a private entity.
The Court noted that if
Chickasaw was a public town on public land, then it would be a clear
violation of the right to free speech for the government to bar the
sidewalk distribution of religious material.
The Court found that the
company was performing a function that has been traditionally,
exclusively, done by the government, and was therefore bound to the
Constitution via the Public Functions Exception.
The Court found that that
ownership "does not always mean absolute dominion."
The court pointed out that
the more an owner opens his property up to the public in general, the
more his rights are circumscribed by the statutory and constitutional
rights of those who are invited in.
Basically, this case said that
a private entity is not required to, in general, meet all of the
provisions of the Bill of Rights
(aka the State Action Doctrine). However, when that entity
is performing something that is generally considered to be a government
function, then they must meet the standards of the Constitution (aka the Public
In this case, there are three
parties whose rights need to be protected. There are people who want to
speak, like Marsh, there are people who own the land, like Gulf, and there
are also the people who want/need to hear, like the citizens of the town.
This case was determined not
on Marsh's right to speak, but more on the idea that the people of the
town had a right to be informed and to receive information.