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State v. Fisher

Supreme Court of North Carolina
Dec 1, 1842
25 N.C. 111 (N.C. 1842)


(December Term, 1842.)

1. An indictment charging a person with disturbing "a religious assembly, commonly called a Quarterly Meeting Conference," cannot be supported.

2. The indictment should charge that the assembly had met "for divine worship," "divine service," "religious worship or service," or something of the same import.

APPEAL from Manly, J., Fall Term, 1842, of CRAVEN.

The defendant was tried upon the following indictment, to which he pleaded not guilty, viz.:

"State of North Carolina, } ss. Superior Court of Law — Craven County. } Fall Term, 1841.

The jurors for the State, upon their oath, present, that on the first day of October, one thousand eight hundred and forty-one, a certain assembly of people at a certain church or meeting-house, devoted to the service of Almighty God, situate, lying and being in the county of Craven, and commonly called Brice's Creek meeting-house, did meet and congregate for the purpose of public worship of God; and the said certain assembly of people, within the church or meeting-house aforesaid, in the county aforesaid, then and there did worship Almighty God, and engage in religious services; and after the said services and worship of Almighty God were finished and concluded, afterwards, to wit, on the said first day of October, in the year aforesaid, the said congregation and assembly of people, then and there in the said church or meeting-house, in the county aforesaid, did immediately meet and assemble together and hold a religious assembly, commonly called Quarterly Meeting Conference; and the jurors aforesaid, upon their oath aforesaid, do further present that (112) Michael N. Fisher, late of the county of Craven, afterwards, on the said first day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and forty-one, whilst the said congregation and assembly of people were so assembled as aforesaid, and engaged in the services, duties and business of the said religious assembly, commonly called Quarterly Meeting Conference, in the said church or meeting-house, commonly called Brice's Creek meeting-house, in the county aforesaid, unlawfully, wittingly and of purpose, maliciously and contemptuously did come into the said congregation, during the services of the said religious assembly, commonly called Quarterly Meeting Conference as aforesaid, and did then and there, unlawfully, wittingly and of purpose, maliciously and contemptuously disquiet and disturb the said congregation, by then and there talking and cursing and swearing with a loud voice, and also by cursing and abusing with a loud voice Robert J. Carson, he the said Robert J. Carson, being a regular minister of the gospel, and then and there presiding in the said religious assembly, and also by ridiculing and denouncing, then and there in a loud voice and in an insulting manner, the doctrines of our Saviour, as had been preached and held forth by the said Robert J. Carson, then and there from the pulpit during divine service as aforesaid, and by then and there making divers ridiculous and indecent actions and grimaces, and otherwise misbehaving himself during the performance and business of the said religious assembly in said church or meeting-house, to the great disturbance, insult and common nuisance of the orderly people then and there assembled, and against the peace and dignity of the State.

Upon the trial, it was proved that the defendant was one of a congregation of persons, who assembled at a meeting-house in Craven County, for the worship of Almighty God; that after divine service was concluded, and the assembly dismissed, certain members of the society, to the number of ten, or thereabouts (including the preacher), assembled in the meeting-house, and formed themselves into what is called "Quarterly Meeting Conference," for the transaction of business connected (113) with the temporal welfare of the society; that soon after they were organized, and while the people were dispersing, the defendant came near the door of the meeting-house, and in a very angry manner walked backwards and forwards repeatedly before it, using loud, profane and threatening language, so that those persons, who were within the house, as well as those who stood around, heard him. In behalf of the defendant, it was contended that there should not be a conviction, for the reason that it was not a congregation engaged in religious exercise, and this was the charge. But the presiding judge believed, and so stated, that the substance of the charge was the disturbing of an assembly of religious people, not engaged in divine worship, but whilst they were performing duties and services of a secular character, appertaining to their association; and the Judge instructed the jury, that if they believed from the evidence, that ten or more persons, congregated for such purpose had been disturbed and interrupted in the performance of their business by the defendant, they might and should find him guilty of the charge in the bill. The jury returned a verdict of guilty. Upon a motion in arrest of judgment, the Court arrested the judgment upon the ground that the indictment does not set forth any criminal offense. It does not charge that the assembly disturbed was engaged in the worship of God, or engaged about any other public duty, and such allegation is indispensable to make the charge in the bill a public wrong, proper to be redressed by complaint of the State. From this judgment, the Solicitor for the State appealed to the Supreme Court.

Attorney-General and J. H. Bryan for the State.

No counsel for the defendant.

The points arising upon the record in this case were, we think, correctly apprehended, and decided upon proper principles in the Superior Court.

The offense charged is, that the defendant disturbed "a religious assembly, commonly called a Quarterly Meeting Conferrence," (114) by certain acts set forth in the indictment. But it does not state the purpose of that assembly, and particularly, that it was for divine worship. Without possessing precise information of the province of that body, which is known as "Quarterly Meeting Conference," among one of our respectable religious sects, we can only say, that we suppose it is not a meeting for divine service by worship, but for the secular service of the society in its temporal matters, or as a local ecclesiastical tribunal, for the purpose of discipline. But whether that be the true character of the body or not, certainly we are so to consider it on this indictment; for it expressly states, that, "after the religious services and worship of Almighty God were finished and concluded," the defendant committed the disorderly acts charged. Calling it "a religious assembly," means nothing more in this case than "an assembly of religious persons," who were disturbed by the defendant, but not while engaged in the exercise of their mode of worship. In the opinion of the Court, that, although a grossly indecent and immoral act, is not a criminal offense, punishable by indictment. There was no interference with the rights and duties of conscience, which are secured both to individuals and congregations, by the guaranty in the Constitution of liberty of worship. That is an offense, which cannot be described either in a statute or an indictment, without the use of such general terms as "divine worship," "divine service," "religious worship or service," or the like; or by some more special phrase, denoting the interruption or hindrance of the performance of a specific part of the religious service adopted by the church or sect. Thus our statutes of 1800 and 1807 (Rev. St., c. 99, s. 8, 10) punish disorderly conduct at churches or meeting-houses, at which "persons are assembled for divine worship." In like manner the precedents, whether at common law or under the English acts of Parliament, use the same language; some of which may be found, 2 Chitty's C. L., 21, 24 to 34. In S. v. Jasper, 15 N.C. 323, the indictment was comfortable to those precedents, using, (115) in one part of it, the words "public worship of God," and in another part, "during the performance of divine service." Nor can the defendant be regarded as hindering a legal — as contradistinguished from a religious — duty, in the performance of which, men are brought together in masses, in order to exercise political functions, or execute public service, such as attending an election or holding a Court. The interruption of such a duty by violence or menace, must be an injury to many individuals, and a detriment to the community; the duty being imposed by public law, and concerning the public welfare. But the association, on which this outrage was practised, though formed for purposes undoubtedly lawful and useful, is yet entirely voluntary. Not being required by the law, nor, like an assemblage of religious worshipers, its inviolability assured by the Constitution, the law cannot treat, as public wrongs, acts which incommode it as a private, secular and voluntary association, but can only punish them, when they amount to offenses against the persons of the individuals, who compose the meeting or some other specific offense. There must be some such restriction upon the doctrine, else we should be obliged to hold any conduct indictable, which annoys two or more persons called together for a purpose not unlawful; which would be extending the principle much further than it has been, or ought to be carried.

It was not even contended at the bar, that the indictment could be sustained, as one for blasphemy, by that part of it which states, the "ridiculing and denouncing, in an insulting manner, the doctrines of our Saviour, as had been set forth and preached by the minister, during the divine service," which had preceded, and it was properly not so contended. For, if an indictment for blasphemy will lie in this State, the present is clearly not one, since it does not state the doctrines set forth by the preacher, nor the blasphemous language of the defendant, whereby it might appear that the doctrine of the preacher is a doctrine of christianity, as known to the law, and that the object of the (116) defendant was not to discuss a controverted point of that religion, but maliciously to undermine or subvert the whole system.

In no point of view, therefore, can the indictment be supported.

PER CURIAM. Affirmed.

Cited: S. v. Jacobs, 103 N.C. 402; S. v. Ramsay, 78 N.C. 453.

Summaries of

State v. Fisher

Supreme Court of North Carolina
Dec 1, 1842
25 N.C. 111 (N.C. 1842)
Case details for

State v. Fisher

Case Details


Court:Supreme Court of North Carolina

Date published: Dec 1, 1842


25 N.C. 111 (N.C. 1842)

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