Supreme Court Strikes Down Ohio Ordinance Regulating Door-to-door Advocacy

Americans Should Not Have To Get Government Permission To Spread Views, AU Says

Today's Supreme Court decision striking down an Ohio city ordinance regulating door-to-door advocacy is a victory for religious freedom, according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

The Stratton, Ohio, ordinance required anyone wishing to engage in door-to-door advocacy to register with the city government and fill out a form giving detailed information about their activities. Eight justices agreed that the law was too broad. (The lone dissenter was Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist.)

"People who want to talk about their views with others shouldn't have to ask the government for permission first," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. "The First Amendment protects the right of Americans to spread their views. Whether it's the Jehovah's Witnesses asking people to join their denomination or an atheist group asking people to reject religion, Americans shouldn't have to get a permit from the government to spread their opinions."

Continued Lynn, "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."

The challenge to Stratton's law was brought by the Jehovah's Witnesses, a denomination known for its public outreach. The case is Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York v. Village of Stratton.

Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the majority, "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 public discourse a citizen must first inform the government of her desire to speak to her neighbors and then obtain a permit to do so."

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.