High court strikes down door-to-door canvassing regulation
June 21 2002 by Tom Strode , Baptist Press

High court strikes down door-to-door canvassing regulation | Friday, June 21, 2002

Friday, June 21, 2002

High court strikes down door-to-door canvassing regulation

By Tom Strode Baptist Press

WASHINGTON - An Ohio town ordinance that regulates door-to-door canvassing violates the First Amendment, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled June 17.

The decision is considered a victory not only for Jehovah's Witnesses, the religious group that brought the suit, but also for Christians and others who do unsolicited visitations to homes.

The Supreme Court voted 8-1 to reverse a lower court opinion that had upheld a measure adopted in the village of Stratton, Ohio, that required a permit before a person could go on private property to advocate a cause, sell a product or promote an organization. The ordinance affected religious adherents, political candidates, community groups and salespeople.

The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, a corporation that coordinates the activities of Jehovah's Witnesses, brought suit against Stratton after the ordinance was adopted. Jehovah's Witnesses often go door-to-door distributing their publications.

The Stratton ordinance requires an individual to register with the mayor's office and to explain the cause and reason for the home visitation.

"I am delighted that the Supreme Court has chosen to affirm religious liberty and freedom of speech," said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Conventnion's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). "Any other decision would have been a disaster for First Amendment freedoms in America."

The ruling "is good news ... real good news," Land said. "Hopefully, the 8-1 decision portends more good news to come from this court in the immediate future."

Americans United (AU) for Separation of Church and State, which often clashes with the ERLC and other religious freedom organizations, also welcomed the ruling.

"People who want to talk about their views with others shouldn't have to ask the government for permission first," AU executive director Barry Lynn said in a written statement. "People who are bothered by door-to-door evangelism can always say, 'No, thanks,' and shut the door or post a 'No soliciting' sign. Heavy-handed government regulations on speech stifle our basic freedoms."

In the majority opinion, Associate Justice John Paul Stevens said the ordinance had a "pernicious effect."

"It is offensive - not only to the values protected by the First Amendment, but to the very notion of a free society - that in the context of everyday discourse a citizen must first inform the government of their desire to speak to their neighbors and then obtain a permit to do so," Stevens wrote. "Even if the issuance of permits by the mayor's office is a ministerial task that is performed promptly and at no cost to the applicant, a law requiring a permit to engage in such speech constitutes a dramatic departure from our national heritage and constitutional tradition."

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6/21/2002 12:00:00 AM by Tom Strode , Baptist Press | with 0 comments
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