Ben Stone: 'U.S. versus Ballard.' The Supreme Court says the truth of their religious beliefs should not be submitted to a jury.
In the case of U.S. v. Ballard (1944), Guy Ballard was a follower of the "I Am" movement, and claimed that the words of a saint were transmitted through him and that he had the power to heal people. He solicited contributions for his healing through mass mailing, and was arrested for mail fraud. The government held that Ballard knew very well that his religious claims were false. Ballard contested that the government had no right to judge his religious beliefs. In U.S. v. Ballard (1944), the Supreme Court upheld the position that juries should only consider the sincerity of religious beliefs (e.g., if Ballard truly believed he had the powers he claimed) rather than their content (e.g., whether or not Ballard's beliefs made any sense). In delivering the majority opinion, William O. Douglas wrote: "Heresy trials are foreign to our Constitution... Religious experiences which are as real as life to some may be incomprehensible to others."