Free Speech

Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York v. Village of Stratton , No. 00-1737

Since the 1940s, the Jehovah's Witnesses have often invoked the First Amendment's religion clauses to protect their ability to engage in the proselytizing that is central to their faith. This year, in another near-unanimous case, the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that a village ordinance making it a misdemeanor to engage in door-to-door advocacy without first registering with the mayor and receiving a permit violates the First Amendment as it applies to religious proselytizing, anonymous political speech, and the distribution of handbills. Chief Justice Rehnquist was the only dissenter.

Read Justice Stevens' Majority Opinion.

Read a Transcript of Oral Arguments.

Read the Supreme Court Amicus Brief (.pdf) filed by the Brennan Center for Justice.

Learn about who the Jehovah's Witnesses are and what they believe.

Read the Sixth Circuit's Opinion in this case upholding key elements of the Village of Stratton, Ohio's, ordinance regulating door-to-door solicitation.

Read the Supreme Court's opinion in Cantwell v. Connecticut, in which the Court applied the First Amendment's free exercise clause to the states and ruled on behalf of the Jehovah's Witnesses that "to condition the solicitation of aid for the perpetuation of religious views or systems upon a license, the grant of which rests in the exercise of a determination by state authority as to what is a religious cause, is to lay a forbidden burden upon the exercise of liberty protected by the Constitution."

Read the Supreme Court's opinion in Martin v. City of Struthers reversing the convictions of Jehovah's Witnesses who had been fined under an ordinance that banned the door-to-door distribution of handbills.

Read the Supreme Court's opinion in McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission, in which the Court protected the anonymous distribution of political campaign literature.

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