United States v. Ballard
322 U.S. 78 (1944)

  • Ballard (along with his wife and son) claimed they could heal sick people if they sent him a donation. He claimed to have healed hundreds of people who had incurable disease.
    • He also collected over $3M in donations.
  • Ballard died, and his wife and son were arrested for fraud.
  • The Trial Court convicted the Ballards of fraud. They appealed.
    • The jury was instructed to convict if they found that the Ballards religious claims were not true.
    • The prosecutor argued that the Ballards didn’t have any healing powers, and so it was fraud because they collected money under false pretenses.
    • Interestingly, many of Ballard’s followers protested the conviction. At least they felt that they hadn’t been defrauded.
  • The Appellate Court overturned the conviction and remanded for a new trial. The prosecutor appealed.
  • The US Supreme Court affirmed.
    • The US Supreme Court found that the question of whether the Ballards’ believed their religious claims should not have been submitted to a jury.
      • The Court found that “freedom of religious belief embraces the right to maintain theories of life and of death and of the hereafter which are rank heresy to followers of the orthodox faiths.”
    • Basically, the Court found that it didn’t matter if Ballard could really heal the sick or not. The only thing that mattered was whether he believed that he could.
      • If Ballard really, honestly believed he could heal the sick, then it wasn’t fraud, even if a reasonable person would consider Ballard’s claims to be ridiculous.
  • At a second trial, the Ballards were again convicted of fraud, even though the question of their religious beliefs was not given to the jury.