Watchtower Bible & Tract Soc. of N. Y., Inc. v. Village of Stratton, 536 U.S. 150, 9 (2002)

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Opinion of the Court

preach from Scripture.7 "For us to seek a permit from a municipality to preach we feel would almost be an insult to God." App. 321a.

Petitioners introduced some evidence that the ordinance was the product of the mayor's hostility to their ministry, but the District Court credited the mayor's testimony that it had been designed to protect the privacy rights of the Village residents, specifically to protect them "from 'flim flam' con artists who prey on small town populations." 61 F. Supp. 2d 734, 736 (SD Ohio 1999). Nevertheless, the court concluded that the terms of the ordinance applied to the activities of petitioners as well as to "business or political canvassers," id., at 737, 738.

The District Court upheld most provisions of the ordinance as valid, content-neutral regulations that did not infringe on petitioners' First Amendment rights. The court did, however, require the Village to accept narrowing constructions of three provisions. First, the court viewed the requirement in 116.03(b)(5) that the applicant must list the specific address of each residence to be visited as potentially invalid, but cured by the Village's agreement to attach to the form a list of willing residents. Id., at 737. Second, it held that petitioners could comply with 116.03(b)(6) by merely stating their purpose as "the Jehovah's Witness ministry." Id., at 738. And third, it held that 116.05, which limited canvassing to the hours before 5 p.m., was invalid on its face and should be replaced with a provision referring to "reasonable hours of the day." Id., at 739. As so modified, the court held the ordinance constitutionally valid as applied to petitioners and dismissed the case.

7 Specifically, from the Book of "Matthew chapter 28, verses 19 and 20, which we take as our commission to preach. . . . So Jesus, by example, instituted a house-to-house search for people so as to preach the good news to them. And that's the activity that Jehovah's Witnesses engage in, even as Christ's apostles did after his resurrection to heaven." Id., at 313a-314a.

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