Watchtower Bible & Tract Soc. of N. Y., Inc. v. Village of Stratton, 536 U.S. 150, 14 (2002)

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

Opinion of the Court

for any purpose, to establish his identity and his authority to act for the cause which he purports to represent." Id., at 306. Similarly, in Martin v. City of Struthers, the Court recognized crime prevention as a legitimate interest served by these ordinances and noted that "burglars frequently pose as canvassers, either in order that they may have a pretense to discover whether a house is empty and hence ripe for burglary, or for the purpose of spying out the premises in order that they may return later." 319 U. S., at 144. Despite recognition of these interests as legitimate, our precedent is clear that there must be a balance between these interests and the effect of the regulations on First Amendment rights. We "must 'be astute to examine the effect of the challenged legislation' and must 'weigh the circumstances and . . . appraise the substantiality of the reasons advanced in support of the regulation.' " Ibid. (quoting Schneider, 308 U. S., at 161).

Finally, the cases demonstrate that efforts of the Jehovah's Witnesses to resist speech regulation have not been a struggle for their rights alone. In Martin, after cataloging the many groups that rely extensively upon this method of communication, the Court summarized that "[d]oor to door distribution of circulars is essential to the poorly financed causes of little people." 319 U. S., at 144-146.

That the Jehovah's Witnesses are not the only "little people" who face the risk of silencing by regulations like the Village's is exemplified by our cases involving nonreligious speech. See, e. g., Schaumburg v. Citizens for a Better Environment, 444 U. S. 620 (1980); Hynes v. Mayor and Council of Oradell, 425 U. S. 610 (1976); Thomas v. Collins, 323 U. S. 516 (1945). In Thomas, the issue was whether a labor leader could be required to obtain a permit before delivering a speech to prospective union members. After reviewing the Jehovah's Witnesses cases discussed above, the Court observed:


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