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picture could be publicly exhibited in the state, and
"It cannot be put out of view that the exhibition of
of the country or as organs of public opinion.” ?
? 236 U.S., at 244.
8 Gitlow v. New York, 268 U. S. 652, 666 (1925); Stromberg v. California, 283 U. S. 359, 368 (1931); Near v. Minnesota ex rel. Olson, 283 U. S. 697, 707 (1931); Grosjean v. American Press Co., 297 U. S. 233, 244 (1936); De Jonge v. Oregon, 299 U. S. 353, 364 (1937); Lovell v. Griffin, 303 U. S. 444, 450 (1938); Schneider v. State, 308 U. S. 147, 160 (1939).
Opinion of the Court.
followed and reaffirmed to the present day. Since this series of decisions came after the Mutual decision, the present case is the first to present squarely to us the question whether motion pictures are within the ambit of protection which the First Amendment, through the Fourteenth, secures to any form of "speech” or “the press.
It cannot be doubted that motion pictures are a significant medium for the communication of ideas. They may affect public attitudes and behavior in a variety of ways, ranging from direct espousal of a political or social doctrine to the subtle shaping of thought which characterizes all artistic expression. The importance of motion pictures as an organ of public opinion is not lessened by the fact that they are designed to entertain as well as to inform. As was said in Winters v. New York, 333 U. S. 507, 510 (1948):
“The line between the informing and the entertaining is too elusive for the protection of that basic right [a free press]. Everyone is familiar with instances of propaganda through fiction. What is one
man's amusement, teaches another's doctrine." It is urged that motion pictures do not fall within the First Amendment's aegis because their production, distribution, and exhibition is a large-scale business conducted for private profit. We cannot agree. That books, newspapers, and magazines are published and sold for profit does not prevent them from being a form of expression whose liberty is safeguarded by the First Amend
9 See Lovell v. Griffin, 303 U. S. 444, 452 (1938).
10 See Inglis, Freedom of the Movies (1947), 20-24; Klapper, The Effects of Mass Media (1950), passim; Note, Motion Pictures and the First Amendment, 60 Yale L. J. 696, 704–708 (1951), and sources cited therein.
Opinion of the Court.
ment. We fail to see why operation for profit should have any different effect in the case of motion pictures.
It is further urged that motion pictures possess a greater capacity for evil, particularly among the youth of a community, than other modes of expression. Even if one were to accept this hypothesis, it does not follow that motion pictures should be disqualified from First Amendment protection. If there be capacity for evil it may be relevant in determining the permissible scope of community control, but it does not authorize substantially unbridled censorship such as we have here.
For the foregoing reasons, we conclude that expression by means of motion pictures is included within the free speech and free press guaranty of the First and Fourteenth Amendments. To the extent that language in the opinion in Mutual Film Corp. v. Industrial Comm'n, supra, is out of harmony with the views here set forth, we no longer adhere to it.12
To hold that liberty of expression by means of motion pictures is guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments, however, is not the end of our problem. It does not follow that the Constitution requires absolute freedom to exhibit every motion picture of every kind at all times and all places. That much is evident from the series of decisions of this Court with respect to other
11 See Grosjean v. American Press Co., 297 U. S. 233 (1936); Thomas v. Collins, 323 U. S. 516, 531 (1945).
12 See United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc., 334 U. S. 131, 166 (1948): “We have no doubt that moving pictures, like newspapers and radio, are included in the press whose freedom is guaranteed by the First Amendment.” It is not without significance that talking pictures were first produced in 1926, eleven years after the Mutual decision. Hampton, A History of the Movies (1931), 382
Opinion of the Court.
media of communication of ideas.13 Nor does it follow that motion pictures are necessarily subject to the precise rules governing any other particular method of expression. Each method tends to present its own peculiar problems. But the basic principles of freedom of speech and the press, like the First Amendment's command, do not vary. Those principles, as they have frequently been enunciated by this Court, make freedom of expression the rule. There is no justification in this case for making an exception to that rule.
The statute involved here does not seek to punish, as a past offense, speech or writing falling within the permissible scope of subsequent punishment. On the contrary, New York requires that permission to communicate ideas be obtained in advance from state officials who judge the content of the words and pictures sought to be communicated. This Court recognized many years ago that such a previous restraint is a form of infringement upon freedom of expression to be especially condemned. Near v. Minnesota ex rel. Olson, 283 U. S. 697 (1931). The Court there recounted the history which indicates that a major purpose of the First Amendment guaranty of a free press was to prevent prior restraints upon publication, although it was carefully pointed out that the liberty of the press is not limited to that protection. It was further stated that “the protection even as to previous restraint is not absolutely unlimited. But the limitation has been recognized only
13 E. g., Feiner v. New York, 340 U. S. 315 (1951); Kovacs v. Cooper, 336 U. S. 77 (1949); Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 315 U. S. 568 (1942); Cox v. New Hampshire, 312 U. S. 569 (1941).
14 Near v. Minnesota ex rel. Olson, 283 U. S. 697, 713-719 (1931); see also Lovell v. Griffin, 303 U. S. 444, 451–452 (1938); Grosjean v. American Press Co., 297 U. S. 233, 245–250 (1936); Patterson v. Colorado, 205 U. S. 454, 462 (1907).
Opinion of the Court.
in exceptional cases.” Id., at 716. In the light of the First Amendment's history and of the Near decision, the State has a heavy burden to demonstrate that the limitation challenged here presents such an exceptional case.
New York's highest court says there is "nothing mysterious" about the statutory provision applied in this case: "It is simply this: that no religion, as that word is understood by the ordinary, reasonable person, shall be treated with contempt, mockery, scorn and ridicule.
This is far from the kind of narrow exception to freedom of expression which a state may carve out to satisfy the adverse demands of other interests of society.16 In seeking to apply the broad and all-inclusive definition of "sacrilegious” given by the New York courts, the censor is set adrift upon a boundless sea amid a myriad of conflicting currents of religious views, with no
15 303 N. Y. 242, 258, 101 N. E. 2d 665, 672. At another point the Court of Appeals gave "sacrilegious" the following definition: “the act of violating or profaning anything sacred.” Id., at 255, 101 N. E. 2d at 670. The Court of Appeals also approved the Appellate Division's interpretation: “As the court below said of the statute in question, ‘All it purports to do is to bar a visual caricature of religious beliefs held sacred by one sect or another ....'” Id., at 258, 101 N. E. 20 at 672. Judge Fuld, dissenting, concluded from all the statements in the majority opinion that “the basic criterion appears to be whether the film treats a religious theme in such a manner as to offend the religious beliefs of any group of persons. If the film does have that effect, and it is ‘offered as a form of entertainment,' it apparently falls within the statutory ban regardless of the sincerity and good faith of the producer of the film, no matter how temperate the treatment of the theme, and no matter how unlikely a public disturbance or breach of the peace. The drastic nature of such a ban is highlighted by the fact that the film in question makes no direct attack on, or criticism of, any religious dogma or principle, and it is not claimed to be obscene, scurrilous, intemperate or abusive.” Id., at 271-272, 101 N. E. 2d at 680.
16 Cf. Thornhill v. Alabama, 310 U. S. 88, 97 (1940); Stromberg v. California, 283 U. S. 359, 369-370 (1931).