Reynolds v. United States
98 U.S. 145, 25 L.Ed. 244 (1878)
- Reynolds was legally married
to Mary Ann. Then he went and married Amelia. He was arrested and
charged with bigamy.
- The Trial Court convicted
Reynolds of bigamy and sentenced
him to two years of hard labor. He appealed.
- Reynolds argued that the law
against having multiple wives was an unconstitutional violation of his 1st
Amendment right to freedom of
- At the time, the Mormon
Church said that polygamy was a religious duty.
- The Appellate Court affirmed.
- The Utah Supreme Court
affirmed, Reynolds appealed.
- The US Supreme Court affirmed.
- The US Supreme Court looked
to historical precedent and found that polygamy has never been legal in
US or European law. It has also never been practiced, except by
"Asiatic and African peoples."
- The Court found that the law
was constitutional because, although marriage does have religious
connotations, it is also a civil contract, and usually regulated by law.
- The Court considered
granting an exemption for religious beliefs, but rejected the idea. They
found that would add a new element to criminal law.
- "Laws are made for
government of actions, and while they cannot interfere with religious
beliefs and opinions, they may with practices."
- The Court suggested that
they could never approve of a religious requirement for human sacrifice,
- This case said that the State
does not regulate belief, but it
can regulate conduct.
- Reynolds was free to lobby
the Utah State Legislature to change the law.
- This case is usually cited as
recognizing State authority to define marriage as monogamous and to impose
sanctions based on polygamy.
- This case was the first
major decision that attempted to define what marriage is.