Watchtower Bible & Tract Soc. of N. Y., Inc. v. Village of Stratton, 536 U.S. 150, 10 (2002)

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Cite as: 536 U. S. 150 (2002)

Opinion of the Court

The Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed. 240 F. 3d 553 (2001). It held that the ordinance was "content neutral and of general applicability and therefore subject to intermediate scrutiny." Id., at 560. It rejected petitioners' reliance on the discussion of laws affecting both the free exercise of religion and free speech in Employment Div., Dept. of Human Resources of Ore. v. Smith, 494 U. S. 872 (1990),8 because that "language was dicta and therefore not binding." 240 F. 3d, at 561. It also rejected petitioners' argument that the ordinance is overbroad because it impairs the right to distribute pamphlets anonymously that we recognized in McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Comm'n, 514 U. S. 334 (1995), reasoning that "the very act of going door-to-door requires the canvassers to reveal a portion of their identities." 240 F. 3d, at 563. The Court of Appeals concluded that the interests promoted by the Village—"protecting its residents from fraud and undue annoyance"—as well as the harm that it seeks to prevent—"criminals posing as canvassers in order to defraud its residents"—though "by no means overwhelming," were sufficient to justify the regulation. Id., at 565- 566. The court distinguished earlier cases protecting the Jehovah's Witnesses ministry because those cases either in-8 "The only decisions in which we have held that the First Amendment bars application of a neutral, generally applicable law to religiously motivated action have involved not the Free Exercise Clause alone, but the Free Exercise Clause in conjunction with other constitutional protections, such as freedom of speech and of the press, see Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U. S., at 304-307 (invalidating a licensing system for religious and charitable solicitations under which the administrator had discretion to deny a license to any cause he deemed nonreligious); Murdock v. Pennsylvania, 319 U. S. 105 (1943) (invalidating a flat tax on solicitation as applied to the dissemination of religious ideas); Follett v. McCormick, 321 U. S. 573 (1944) (same), or the right of parents, acknowledged in Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U. S. 510 (1925), to direct the education of their children, see Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U. S. 205 (1972) (invalidating compulsory school-attendance laws as applied to Amish parents who refused on religious grounds to send their children to school)." 494 U. S., at 881 (foot-note omitted).


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