Barnes v. First Parish in Falmouth
Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
6 Mass. 400 (1810)
Massachusetts adopted the Protestant religion as part of its constitution because of the moral code Christianity implemented, which it believed would improve the relationships among its citizens and secure their happiness. The Massachusetts constitution provided that a majority of parish residents who belonged to an incorporated church had the right and duty to elect and financially support, with taxpayer money, a Protestant religious teacher. The constitution also provided that a taxpayer could direct that his taxes for public worship be directed to support the elected teacher from the incorporated church he attended. In addition, the constitution protected the rights of citizens to belong to any religion, including non-Protestant religions, without government interference. Barnes (plaintiff) was a non-Protestant religious teacher for an unincorporated church in the First Parish in Falmouth, Massachusetts (Falmouth parish) (defendant). Residents of Falmouth parish who attended Barnes’s church directed that their taxes be directed to support Barnes. Barnes sued to recover those taxes. The district court dismissed the case because Barnes was not an elected Protestant teacher from an incorporated church as required by the constitution. Barnes appealed.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Parsons, C.J.)
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