Court Upholds Door-to-Door Proselytizing

In an 8-1 decision the U.S. Supreme Court ruled anonymous door-to-door proselytizing is protected by the Constitution. The high court ruled that communities can't require religious groups to obtain a permit before witnessing door to door.

The justices sided with Jehovah's Witnesses, who challenged an ordinance in a small Ohio town requiring canvassers to register with the city and obtain a permit. Leaders of Stratton, Ohio, said the ordinance was needed to protect elderly residents against harassment by door to doorsolicitors. The town's Jehovah's Witnesses refused to apply for a permit saying it forced them to get permission from the government before preaching to their neighbors.

"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," Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in his opinion for the majority.

The Supreme Court had previously ruled that people may remain anonymous in spreading non-commercial political messages, in order to protect supporters of unpopular views from retaliation. The new ruling extends the same protection to religious speech.