Wooley Vs. Maynard

In 1969 New Hampshire made a state law that all non-commercial vehicles must have a license plate with their state’s motto on it “Live Free or Die”. This motto is just a representation of history, and it was not thought of as a hurtful item until George Maynard would step in, and share his thoughts with the court.  The law stated that if you tampered with the license plate by covering letters up or the figures on your plate you would be convicted of a crime. In 1969 these “letters” were expanded on to include the motto of New Hampshire after the case of the State vs. Hoskin. This new law would stay in place until Mr. Maynard would eventually test the boundaries of this law, and his own free speech in the mid to late 1970’s.

The issue of the license plate offended George and his wife who were avid Jehovah witnesses and believed the motto violated their moral and political beliefs also. They believed that their “government” was Jehovah’s kingdom, which granted everlasting life not death as the motto says.  Their political standpoint was like their religious reasoning because they believed “life was more precious than freedom.” So, because of this law in November of 1974 George would tamper with his license plate, and cover up the word “or Die” signifying he did not believe in the state motto. He would later be written up as a citation for violating the state law of covering up the license plate. This would fuel George to take the case to court, and share his opinions on the matter.

In December of 1974 George would appear in court at the Lebanon District Court to plead his case of not being guilty. He would go on to talk about how this motto violated his political and religious beliefs while affecting his morals also. The court would let him go on a $25 charge because he was still breaking the law made by State vs Hoskin, but he was let off for “good behavior”. That wouldn’t stop Maynard, though later that month he would be charged with the same violation, and he would eventually go to court again on the issue in January of 1975. With no lawyer like the last time, Maynard would be found guilty and sentenced to 6 months in a county house of correction and a $50 dollar fine. Instead of making Maynard go through that the court waived the 6 months in the correction house if he paid both his fines. Maynard refused to pay the fines determined to show the courts how the law affects the first amendment. Since the fines would not be paid the court sentenced him to 15 days in prison, which Maynard would serve. Maynard got a third conviction on the issue before he went to court the second time, but the fine was waived by the 15 days he was in prison.

After George was released from jail, he would go on to sue the District Court of New Hampshire over the matter. 7 days later the courts would issue a restraining order against the arrests of the Maynards. The mayor of New Hampshire would then choose to appeal to the U.S Supreme Court, which they accepted to hear the case. The Supreme would repeal the law to require that the state motto be on the license plates of vehicles in a 6 to 3 decision. Taking it from a viewpoint of why it was being tested the Supreme Court favored in getting rid of the law because of in some ways it does and can offend people.

I think this court case is unique because of how tiny the subject matter is, and how determined George was to get rid of this law. I understand why he wanted it repealed, but to go to the measures he did to get it that way was drastic. I can’t think of any court cases today, but anything that tests the boundaries of political beliefs or religion can relate to this because that was what the whole argument was based on. With the election, over and the protests that have been taking place could be compared to this. Also, anything that is said about religion is testing boundaries today because of how easily people can get offended by it. I think this case isn’t that big of a deal to the first amendment, but it shows how people can fight it, and relates to today by the issues that it was built by.


Posted on November 21, 2016, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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