Whose Rights Are Getting Trampled?
By James Donahue
A recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that finds a small Ohio town's "peddler license" ordinance
in constitutional violation is a twisted irony in the light of all that has happened to the Constitution since 9-11.
While watching the Patriot Act bury a long list of not only Constitutional freedoms but the Bill
of Rights in the name of protecting us against terrorism, the ruling favoring unlicensed door-to-door solicitation is a
real attack against the security of our homes.
The case involved an ordinance adopted in 1998 by the Stratton, Ohio, Village Council requiring
door-to-door canvassers to obtain permits before knocking. I believe most towns in the United States have similar laws. Without
them, I fear that our doorbells would be worn out in the frenzy to force some new product or belief system down our throats.
The Stratton peddler ordinance was probably copied with the identical legal verbiage and "boiler-plate"
existing in ordinances across the land. Once a working formula is generated for a community by one lawyer, town councils have
a way of passing their laws around in the interest of saving time and money.
The ordinance simply required itinerant solicitors to apply for a license at the town hall, or by
contacting the village president. The application asked disclosure of name, home address, employer and the purpose of the
activity. There probably was a fee to be paid. Failure to comply was a misdemeanor that brought a fine ranging from $50 to
The Jehovah's Witnesses, a strange religious sect known for aggressively hawking its belief system
at people's doors, brought the case to the high court. The church lost in two lower courts before winning an appeal before
The shock came when the High Court struck down the local law. It ruled 8-1 that the ordinance violated
the First Amendment because it forced petitioners, including those who wanted to talk about politics and religion, to get
"The mere fact that the ordinance covers so much speech raises constitutional concerns," wrote Justice
John Paul Stevens. "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."
Something is wrong with this way of thinking.
As a writer I am an obvious supporter of the First Amendment, but I also believe in the old
saying that "a man's home is his castle." People should have a right to prohibit solicitors of anything from freely coming
to our doors if we want to be left alone.
The freedom to speak in the public forum is where the First Amendment belongs, not at our front
As it is, our lives are so jarred by the constant home invasions by telephone, computer and television
advertising that we are going to great lengths to pass laws and build firewalls to block them from doing it. Thus a court
decision striking down a time-tested control of door-to-door solicitation doesn't make sense.
Itinerant sales people and religious nutbags are not my "neighbors" and they are not welcome on
my doorstep. When they come they must be careful not to get their face too close for fear of getting their noses flattened
by the slamming of the door.