Watchtower Bible & Tract Soc. of N. Y., Inc. v. Village of Stratton, 536 U.S. 150, 5 (2002)

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154

WATCHTOWER BIBLE & TRACT SOC. OF N. Y., INC. v. VILLAGE OF STRATTON

Opinion of the Court

District of Ohio, seeking an injunction against the enforcement of several sections of Ordinance No. 1998-5 regulating uninvited peddling and solicitation on private property in the Village. Petitioners' complaint alleged that the ordinance violated several constitutional rights, including the free exercise of religion, free speech, and the freedom of the press. App. 10a-44a. The District Court conducted a bench trial at which evidence of the administration of the ordinance and its effect on petitioners was introduced.

Section 116.01 prohibits "canvassers" and others from "going in and upon" private residential property for the purpose of promoting any "cause" without first having obtained a permit pursuant to 116.03.1 That section provides that any canvasser who intends to go on private property to promote a cause must obtain a "Solicitation Permit" from the office of the mayor; there is no charge for the permit, and apparently one is issued routinely after an applicant

1 Section 116.01 provides: "The practice of going in and upon private property and/or the private residences of Village residents in the Village by canvassers, solicitors, peddlers, hawkers, itinerant merchants or transient vendors of merchandise or services, not having been invited to do so by the owners or occupants of such private property or residences, and not having first obtained a permit pursuant to Section 116.03 of this Chapter, for the purpose of advertising, promoting, selling and/or explaining any product, service, organization or cause, or for the purpose of soliciting orders for the sale of goods, wares, merchandise or services, is hereby declared to be a nuisance and is prohibited." App. to Brief for Respondents 2a. The Village has interpreted the term "canvassers" to include Jehovah's Witnesses and the term "cause" to include their ministry. The ordinance does not appear to require a permit for a surveyor since such an individual would not be entering private property "for the purpose of advertising, promoting, selling and/or explaining any product, service, organization or cause, or for the purpose of soliciting orders for the sale of goods, wares, merchandise or services." Thus, contrary to the assumption of the dissent in its heavy reliance on the example from Dartmouth, post, at 172-173, 177, 179 (opinion of Rehnquist, C. J.), the Village's ordinance would have done nothing to prevent that tragic crime.

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