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Reynolds v. United States


REYNOLDS V. UNITED STATES, 98 U.S. 145 (1878), was one of the Supreme Court's first decisions addressing the free exercise clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits Congress from making laws that infringe on the free exercise of religion. George Reynolds, a member of the Mormon religion, challenged a federal law that prohibited polygamy in the territories. He argued that his religion required him to have multiple wives and that to prohibit him from doing so was an infringement on his free exercise of religion. Chief Justice Morrison Waite, writing for the Supreme Court, held that to accept that argument would be to make religious beliefs superior to the laws of the United States and would allow any citizen to avoid compliance with the law. This case is credited with drawing a distinction between belief and action in holding that the free exercise clause protects the right of individuals to believe what they want but does not protect religious actions that conflict with the laws of the United States.


Cannon, George Q. A Review of the Decision of the Supreme Court of the United States, in the Case of Geo. Reynolds vs. the United States. Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret News Printing and Publishing Establishment, 1879.

Gordon, Sarah Barringer. The Mormon Question: Polygamy and Constitutional Conflict in Nineteenth-Century America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002.

Shira M.Diner

See alsoFirst Amendment ; Polygamy .

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