Eisenstadt v. Baird/Concurrence Douglas
Mr. Justice Douglas, concurring.
While I join the opinion of the Court, there is for me a narrower ground for affirming the Court of Appeals. This to me is a simple First Amendment case, that amendment being applicable to the States by reason of the Fourteenth. Stromberg v. California, 283 U.S. 359.
Under no stretch of the law as presently stated could Massachusetts require a license for those who desire to lecture on planned parenthood, contraceptives, the rights of women, birth control, or any allied subject, or place a tax on that privilege. As to license taxes on First Amendment rights we said in Murdock v. Pennsylvania, 319 U.S. 105, 115:
"A license tax certainly does not acquire constitutional validity because it classifies the privileges protected by the First Amendment along with the wares and merchandise of hucksters and peddlers and treats them all alike. Such equality in treatment does not save the ordinance. Freedom of press, freedom of speech, freedom of religion are in a preferred position."
We held in Thomas v. Collins, 323 U.S. 516, that a person speaking at a labor union rally could not be required to register or obtain a license:
"As a matter of principle a requirement of registration in order to make a public speech would seem generally incompatible with an exercise of the rights of free speech and free assembly. Lawful public assemblies, involving no element of grave and immediate danger to an interest the State is entitled to protect, are not instruments of harm which require previous identification of the speakers. And the right either of workmen or of unions under these conditions to assemble and discuss their own affairs is as fully protected by the Constitution as the right of businessmen, farmers, educators, political party members or others to assemble and discuss their affairs and to enlist the support of others.
"...If one who solicits support for the cause of labor may be required to register as a condition to the exercise of his right to make a public speech, so may he who seeks to rally support for any social, business, religious or political cause. We think a requirement that one must register before he undertakes to make a public speech to enlist support for a lawful movement is quite incompatible with the requirements of the First Amendment." Id., at 539, 540.
Baird addressed an audience of students and faculty at Boston University on the subject of birth control and overpopulation. His address was approximately one hour in length and consisted of a discussion of various contraceptive devices displayed by means of diagrams on two demonstration boards, as well as a display of contraceptive devices in their original packages. In addition, Baird spoke of the respective merits of various contraceptive devices; overpopulation in the world; crises throughout the world due to overpopulation; the large number of abortions performed on unwed mothers; and quack abortionists and the potential harm to women resulting from abortions performed by quack abortionists. Baird also urged members of the audience to petition the Massachusetts Legislature and to make known their feelings with regard to birth control laws in order to bring about a change in the laws. At the close of the address Baird invited members of the audience to come to the stage and help themselves to the contraceptive articles. We do not know how many accepted Baird's invitation. We only know that Baird personally handed one woman a package of Emko Vaginal Foam. He was then arrested and indicted (1) for exhibiting contraceptive devices and (2) for giving one such device away. The conviction for the first offense was reversed, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts holding that the display of the articles was essential to a graphic representation of the lecture. But the conviction for the giving away of one article was sustained. 355 Mass. 746, 247 N.E.2d 574. The case reaches us by federal habeas corpus.
Had Baird not "given away" a sample of one of the devices whose use he advocated, there could be no question about the protection afforded him by the First Amendment. A State may not "contract the spectrum of available knowledge." Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479, 482. See also Thomas v. Collins, supra; Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510; Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390. However noxious Baird's ideas might have been to the authorities, the freedom to learn about them, fully to comprehend their scope and portent, and to weigh them against the tenets of the "conventional wisdom," may not be abridged. Terminiello v. Chicago, 337 U.S. 1. Our system of government requires that we have faith in the ability of the individual to decide wisely, if only he is fully apprised of the merits of a controversy.
"Freedom of discussion, if it would fulfill its historic function in this nation, must embrace all issues about which information is needed or appropriate to enable the members of society to cope with the exigencies of their period." Thornhill v. Alabama, 310 U.S. 88, 102.
The teachings of Baird and those of Galileo might be of a different order; but the suppression of either is equally repugnant.
As Milton said in the Areopagitica, "Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties."
It is said that only Baird's conduct is involved and United States v. O'Brien, 391 U.S. 367, is cited. That case involved a registrant under the Selective Service Act burning his Selective Service draft card. When prosecuted for that act, he defended his conduct as "symbolic speech." The Court held it was not.
Whatever may be thought of that decision on the merits, O'Brien is not controlling here. The distinction between "speech" and "conduct" is a valid one, insofar as it helps to determine in a particular case whether the purpose of the activity was to aid in the communication of ideas, and whether the form of the communication so interferes with the rights of others that reasonable regulations may be imposed. See Public Utilities Comm'n v. Pollak, 343 U.S. 451, 467 (Douglas, J., dissenting). Thus, excessive noise might well be "conduct"--a form of pollution--which can be made subject to precise, narrowly drawn regulations. See Adderley v. Florida, 385 U.S. 39, 54 (Douglas, J., dissenting). But "this Court has repeatedly stated, [First Amendment] rights are not confined to verbal expression. They embrace appropriate types of action...." Brown v. Louisiana, 383 U.S. 131, 141-142.
Baird gave an hour's lecture on birth control and as an aid to understanding the ideas which he was propagating he handed out one sample of one of the devices whose use he was endorsing. A person giving a lecture on coyote-getters would certainly improve his teaching technique if he passed one out to the audience; and he would be protected in doing so unless of course the device was loaded and ready to explode, killing or injuring people. The same holds true in my mind for mousetraps, spray guns, or any other article not dangerous per se on which speakers give educational lectures.
It is irrelevant to the application of these principles that Baird went beyond the giving of information about birth control and advocated the use of contraceptive articles. The First Amendment protects the opportunity to persuade to action whether that action be unwise or immoral, or whether the speech incites to action. See, e. g., Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444; Edwards v. South Carolina, 372 U.S. 229; Terminiello v. Chicago, supra.
In this case there was not even incitement to action. There is no evidence or finding that Baird intended that the young lady take the foam home with her when he handed it to her or that she would not have examined the article and then returned it to Baird, had he not been placed under arrest immediately upon handing the article over.
First Amendment rights are not limited to verbal expression. The right to petition often involves the right to walk. The right of assembly may mean pushing or jostling. Picketing involves physical activity as well as a display of a sign. A sit-in can be a quiet, dignified protest that has First Amendment protection even though no speech is involved, as we held in Brown v. Louisiana, supra. Putting contraceptives on display is certainly an aid to speech and discussion. Handing an article under discussion to a member of the audience is a technique known to all teachers and is commonly used. A handout may be on such a scale as to smack of a vendor's marketing scheme. But passing one article to an audience is merely a projection of the visual aid and should be a permissible adjunct of free speech. Baird was not making a prescription nor purporting to give medical advice. Handing out the article was not even a suggestion that the lady use it. At most it suggested that she become familiar with the product line.
I do not see how we can have a Society of the Dialogue, which the First Amendment envisages, if time-honored teaching techniques are barred to those who give educational lectures.
^ . In Giboney v. Empire Storage Co., 336 U.S. 490, the Court upheld a state court injunction against peaceful picketing carried on in violation of a state "anti-restraint-of-trade" law. Giboney, however, is easily distinguished from the present case. Under the circumstances there present, "There was clear danger, imminent and immediate, that unless restrained, appellants would succeed in making [state antitrust] policy a dead letter.... They were exercising their economic power together with that of their allies to compel Empire to abide by union rather than by state regulation of trade." Id., at 503 (footnote omitted; emphasis supplied). There is no such coercion in the instant case nor is there a similar frustration of state policy, see text at n. 4, infra. For an analysis of the state policies underlying the Massachusetts statute which Baird was convicted of having violated, see Dienes, The Progeny of Comstockery--Birth Control Laws Return to Court, 21 Am. U. L. Rev. 1, 3-44 (1971).
^ . Even under the restrictive meaning which the Court has given the First Amendment, as applied to the States by the Fourteenth, advocacy of law violation is permissible "except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action." Brandenburg v. Ohio, supra, n. 1, at 447.
^ . This factor alone would seem to distinguish O'Brien, supra, as that case turned on the Court's judgment that O'Brien's "conduct" frustrated a substantial governmental interest.