George Reynolds (defendant), a married man, was charged with bigamy in the territory of Utah in violation of a federal bigamy law after he married a second wife. The bigamy statute imposed a fine of up to $500 and imprisonment for up to five years upon the conviction of any person with a living husband or wife at the time of marrying another spouse. After a trial in the district court, Reynolds requested that the court instruct the jury to find Reynolds not guilty if he married the second woman in pursuit of his religious beliefs as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which was more commonly called the Mormon Church. The trial court refused. Reynolds was found guilty and sentenced to two years in prison and a fine of $500. Reynolds appealed. The judgment was affirmed by the Supreme Court of the Territory of Utah. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari to review.