Judge Rutherford: it's OK to say "God damn" (Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire)

by Olin Moyles Ghost 7 Replies latest watchtower beliefs

  • Olin Moyles Ghost
    Olin Moyles Ghost

    In the U.S., the First Amendment prohibits the government from abridging freedom of speech. Of course, there are some exceptions, such as obscenity and the classic example of falsely shouting "fire!" in a crowded theater. Another exception is known as "fighting words." The most important Supreme Court case regarding "fighting words" is Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire. Mr. Chaplinsky was a JW, but for reasons laid out below, this case is not mentioned in the Proclaimers book.

    Brother Chaplinsky was street witnessing one Saturday afternoon in Rochester New Hampshire in 1940. Apparently a mob of 50 or so people surrounded him and behaved in a threatening manner. According to Chaplinsky, one member of the crowd even attempted to spear him with a flagpole. At some point, a police officer showed up, and Chaplinsky asked the cop to arrest the ones responsible for the disturbance, but the cop refused. In response, Chaplinsky allegedly called the officer "a God-damned racketeer" and "a damned Fascist." Chaplinsky was subsequently arrested, tried, and convicted for violating a state law against public cursing. Chaplinsky appealed the decision all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. "Judge" Rutherford and Hayden Covington represented him.

    At trial, Brother Chaplinsky admitted making the statements with the exception of saying "God-damn" (he argued that he merely said "damn"). In any event, in their brief to the Supreme Court, Rutherford and Covington defend Chaplinsky's right to say "God-damn." I quote from page 11 of the brief: "Jehovah God has condemned racketeers and hence the expression 'God damned,' even if, as and when used in such circumstances, imports verity or constitutes a simple definition of fact. The right to use such definitive and descriptive language in a proper manner and time is guaranteed by the Constitution regardless of whether the one so described agreed or not."

    Thus, Judge Rutherford is on the record saying that it's okay to say "God damn."

    By the way, Chaplinsky lost his appeal. I guess that during WW2, calling someone a Fascist and racketeer was fighting words, whether prefaced with "God damn" or not.

  • Gopher

    Ghost, thanks for bringing that case to light. I'd never heard of it before, while a JW or here on the forum.

    Chaplinsky (an Eastern-European version of the "little tramp"?) sounds like a man after Rutherford's heart, cursing and swearing at opposers of the almighty Watchtower. No wonder Rutherford was moved to take his case all the way up the ladder.

    I remember reading in the Theocratic Ministry School Guidebook (published in 1971) that we JW's shouldn't even use euphemisms -- like gosh, golly and gee.

  • Olin Moyles Ghost
    Olin Moyles Ghost

    The Supreme Court opinion can be found here: http://supreme.justia.com/us/315/568/case.html

  • Leolaia

    I have another good example of this. Rutherford openly used the expression "SOB" in reference to his opposition, as can be seen in his letter posted here:


    And there was an incident at the Bethel dining table in which Matthew Howlett made a joke using the term "son of the bitch", which Olin Moyle found filthy. In the Moyle trial, Howlett rationalized his use of the term through a complex series of biblical texts that derived the "slang" expression from the Bible (p. 1188). Since the hierarchy were "dumb dogs" and the Church was the "harlot", Catholic priests were all "sons of the bitch". Hence, it was perfectly biblical to refer to such a person as a "son of the bitch".

  • besty
  • BabaYaga

    Ha! Who knew?

  • Elsewhere

    God Damn!

  • undercover

    Posting just to mark this thread....

    That's god-damned good investigating OMG

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