MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.
For centuries it has been a common practice in this and other countries for persons not specifically invited to go from home to home and knock on doors or ring doorbells to communicate ideas to the occupants or to invite them to political, religious, or other kinds of public meetings. Whether such visiting shall be permitted has in general been deemed to depend upon the will of the individual master of each household, and not upon the determination of the community. In the instant case, the City of Struthers, Ohio, has attempted to make this decision for all its inhabitants. The question to be decided is whether the City, consistently with the federal Constitution's
The appellant, espousing a religious cause in which she was interested — that of the Jehovah's Witnesses — went to the homes of strangers, knocking on doors and ringing doorbells in order to distribute to the inmates of the homes leaflets advertising a religious meeting. In doing so, she proceeded in a conventional and orderly fashion. For delivering a leaflet to the inmate of a home, she was convicted in the Mayor's Court and was fined $10.00 on a charge of violating the following City ordinance:
"It is unlawful for any person distributing handbills, circulars or other advertisements to ring the door bell, sound the door knocker, or otherwise summon the inmate or inmates of any residence to the door for the purpose of receiving such handbills, circulars or other advertisements they or any person with them may be distributing."
The appellant admitted knocking at the door for the purpose of delivering the invitation, but seasonably urged in the lower Ohio state court that the ordinance as construed and applied was beyond the power of the State because in violation of the right of freedom of press and religion as guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
We are faced in the instant case with the necessity of weighing the conflicting interests of the appellant in the civil rights she claims, as well as the right of the individual householder to determine whether he is willing to receive her message, against the interest of the community which by this ordinance offers to protect the interests of all of its citizens, whether particular citizens want that protection or not. The ordinance does not control anything but the distribution of literature, and in that respect
Ordinances of the sort now before us may be aimed at the protection of the householders from annoyance, including intrusion upon the hours of rest, and at the prevention of crime. Constant callers, whether selling pots or distributing leaflets, may lessen the peaceful enjoyment of a home as much as a neighborhood glue factory or railroad yard which zoning ordinances may prohibit. In the instant case, for example, it is clear from the record that the householder to whom the appellant gave the leaflet which led to her arrest was more irritated than pleased with her visitor. The City, which is an industrial community most of whose residents are engaged in the iron and steel industry,
Freedom to distribute information to every citizen wherever he desires to receive it is so clearly vital to the
Traditionally the American law punishes persons who enter onto the property of another after having been warned by the owner to keep off. General trespass after warning statutes exist in at least twenty states,
The Struthers ordinance does not safeguard these constitutional rights. For this reason, and wholly aside from any other possible defects, on which we do not pass but which are suggested in other opinions filed in this case, we conclude that the ordinance is invalid because in conflict with the freedom of speech and press.
The judgment below is reversed for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.
MR. JUSTICE MURPHY, concurring:
I join in the opinion of the Court, but the importance of this and the other cases involving Jehovah's Witnesses decided today, moves me to add this brief statement.
I believe that nothing enjoys a higher estate in our society than the right given by the First and Fourteenth Amendments freely to practice and proclaim one's religious convictions. Cf. Jones v. Opelika, 316 U.S. 584 at 621. The right extends to the aggressive and disputatious as well as to the meek and acquiescent. The lesson of experience is that — with the passage of time and the interchange of ideas — organizations, once turbulent, perfervid and intolerant in their origin, mellow into tolerance and acceptance by the community, or else sink into oblivion. Religious differences are often sharp and pleaders at times resort "to exaggeration, to vilification of men who have been, or are, prominent in church or state, and even to false statement. But the people of this nation have ordained in the light of history, that, in spite of the probability of excesses and abuses, these liberties are, in the long view, essential to enlightened opinion and right conduct on the part of the citizens of a democracy." Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296, 310. If a religious belief
Also, few, if any, believe more strongly in the maxim, "a man's home is his castle," than I. Cf. Goldman v. United States, 316 U.S. 129 at 136. If this principle approaches a collision with religious freedom, there should be an accommodation, if at all possible, which gives appropriate recognition to both. That is, if regulation should be necessary to protect the safety and privacy of the home, an effort should be made at the same time to preserve the substance of religious freedom.
There can be no question but that appellant was engaged in a religious activity when she was going from house to house in the City of Struthers distributing circulars advertising a meeting of those of her belief. Distribution of such circulars on the streets cannot be prohibited. Jamison v. Texas, 318 U.S. 413. Nor can their distribution on the streets or from house to house be conditioned upon obtaining a license which is subject to the uncontrolled discretion of municipal officials, Lovell v. Griffin, 303 U.S. 444; Schneider v. State, 308 U.S. 147; Largent v. Texas, 318 U.S. 418, or upon payment of a license tax for the privilege of so doing. Murdock v. Pennsylvania, ante, p. 105; Jones v. Opelika, ante, p. 103. Preaching from house to house is an age-old method of proselyting, and it must be remembered that "one is not to have the exercise of his liberty of expression in appropriate places abridged on the plea that it may be exercised in some other place." Schneider v. State, supra, p. 163.
Prohibition may be more convenient to the law maker, and easier to fashion than a regulatory measure which adequately protects the peace and privacy of the home without suppressing legitimate religious activities. But that does not justify a repressive enactment like the one now before us. Cf. Schneider v. State, supra, p. 164. Freedom of religion has a higher dignity under the Constitution
MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS and MR. JUSTICE RUTLEDGE join in this opinion.
MR. JUSTICE FRANKFURTER:
From generation to generation, fresh vindication is given to the prophetic wisdom of the framers of the Constitution in casting it in terms so broad that it has adaptable vitality for the drastic changes in our society which they knew to be inevitable, even though they could not foresee them. Thus it has come to be that the transforming consequences resulting from the pervasive industrialization of life find the Commerce Clause appropriate, for instance, for national regulation of an aircraft flight wholly within a single state. Such exertion of power by the national government over what might seem a purely local transaction would, as a matter of abstract law, have been as unimaginable to Marshall as to Jefferson, precisely because neither could have foreseen the present conquest of the air by man. But law, whether derived from acts of Congress or the Constitution, is not an abstraction. The Constitution cannot be applied in disregard of the external circumstances in which men live and move and have their being. Therefore, neither the First nor the Fourteenth Amendment is to be treated by judges as though it were a mathematical abstraction, an absolute having no relation to the lives of men.
The habits and security of life in sparsely settled rural communities, or even in those few cities which a hundred and fifty years ago had a population of a few thousand, cannot be made the basis of judgment for determining the area of allowable self-protection by present-day industrial communities. The lack of privacy and the hazards
Concededly, the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment did not abrogate the power of the states to recognize that homes are sanctuaries from intrusions upon privacy and of opportunities for leading lives of health and safety. Door-knocking and bell-ringing by professed peddlers of things or ideas may therefore be confined within specified hours and otherwise circumscribed so as not to sanctify the rights of these peddlers in disregard of the rights of those within doors. Acknowledgement is also made that the City of Struthers, the particular ordinance of which presents the immediate issue before us, is one of those industrial communities the residents of which have a working day consisting of twenty-four hours, so that for some portions of the city's inhabitants opportunities for sleep and refreshment require during day as well as night whatever peace and quiet is obtainable in a modern industrial town. It is further recognized that the modern multiple residences give opportunities for pseudo-canvassers to ply evil trades — dangers to the community pursued by the few but far-reaching in their success and in the fears they arouse.
The Court's opinion apparently recognizes these factors as legitimate concerns for regulation by those whose business it is to legislate. But it finds, if I interpret correctly what is wanting in explicitness, that instead of aiming at the protection of householders from intrusion upon needed hours of rest or from those plying evil trades, whether pretending the sale of pots and pans or the distribution of leaflets, the ordinance before us merely penalizes the distribution of "literature." To be sure, the prohibition of this ordinance is within a small circle. But it is not our business to require legislatures to extend the area
MR. JUSTICE REED, dissenting:
While I appreciate the necessity of watchfulness to avoid abridgments of our freedom of expression, it is impossible for me to discover in this trivial town police regulation a violation of the First Amendment. No ideas are being suppressed. No censorship is involved. The freedom to teach or preach by word or book is unabridged, save only the right to call a householder to the door of
Freedom to distribute publications is obviously a part of the general freedom guaranteed the expression of ideas by the First Amendment. It is trite to say that this freedom of expression is not unlimited. Obscenity, disloyalty and provocatives do not come within its protection. Near v. Minnesota, 283 U.S. 697, 712, 716; Schenck v. United States, 249 U.S. 47, 51; Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 315 U.S. 568, 572, 574. All agree that there may be reasonable regulation of the freedom of expression. Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296, 304. One cannot throw dodgers "broadcast in the streets." Schneider v. State, 308 U.S. 147, 161.
The ordinance forbids "any person distributing handbills, circulars or other advertisements to ring the door bell, sound the door knocker, or otherwise summon the inmate or inmates . . . to the door" to receive the advertisement. The Court's opinion speaks of prohibitions against the distribution of "literature." The precise matter distributed appears in the footnote.
If the citizens of Struthers desire to be protected from the annoyance of being called to their doors to receive printed matter, there is to my mind no constitutional provision which forbids their municipal council from modifying the rule that anyone may sound a call for the householder to attend his door. It is the council which is entrusted by the citizens with the power to declare and abate the myriad nuisances which develop in a community. Its determination should not be set aside by this Court unless clearly and patently unconstitutional.
The antiquity and prevalence of colportage are relied on to support the Court's decision. But the practice has persisted because the householder was acquiescent. It can hardly be thought, however, that long indulgence of a practice which many or all citizens have welcomed or tolerated creates a constitutional right to its continuance.
The First Amendment does not compel a pedestrian to pause on the street to listen to the argument supporting another's views of religion or politics. Once the door is opened, the visitor may not insert a foot and insist on a hearing. He certainly may not enter the home. To knock or ring, however, comes close to such invasions. To prohibit such a call leaves open distribution of the notice on the street or at the home without signal to announce its deposit. Such assurance of privacy falls far short of an abridgment of freedom of the press. The ordinance seems a fair adjustment of the privilege of distributors and the rights of householders.
MR. JUSTICE ROBERTS and MR. JUSTICE JACKSON join in this dissent.
See also opinion of MR. JUSTICE JACKSON, post, p. 166.
See also the activities of the American Bible Society. Jones, Colportage Sketches (1883); Dwight, The Centennial History of the American Bible Society (1916), 177-81, 293-95, 460; Annual Reports of the American Bible Society (e.g., 126th Report, 1942, passim).
For the world-wide colportage activities of the British and Foreign Bible Society, see the Society's 137th Report, 1941, passim; For Wayfaring Men (1939), 31-78; Ritson, The World Is Our Parish (1939), 116-18.
This practice has been followed by many religious groups. See, e.g., Barnes, Barnes and Stephenson, Pioneers of Light (1924), 81-104; Stevens, The First Hundred Years of the American Baptist Publication Society (1925), 30-32. During the fiscal year 1939-1940, representatives of the American Baptist Publication Society visited 52,832 families. More than six million families have been visited over a one hundred year period. Annual of Northern Baptist Convention, 1940, 671, 673; Year Book of the Northern Baptist Convention, 1942, 332-335. See for the practice of other religions, Stewart, Sheldon Jackson (1908), 32; Goodykoontz, Home Missions on the American Frontier (1939), 120-122; Keller, The Second Great Awakening in Connecticut (1942), 117-121.
For encouragement of this practice, see Handbook of Club Organization, National Federation of Women's Republican Clubs (1942), 21; and Precinct Organization in War Time, a recent publication of the Democratic National Committee.
"1940's Event of Paramount Importance To You! What is it? The THEOCRATIC CONVENTION OF JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES. Five Days — July 24-28 — Thirty Cities. All Lovers of Righteousness — Welcome! The strange fate threatening all `Christendom' makes it imperative that you COME and HEAR the public address on RELIGION AS A WORLD REMEDY, The Evidence in Support Thereof, by Judge Rutherford at the COLISEUM of the OHIO STATE FAIR GROUNDS, Columbus, Ohio, Sunday, July 28, at 4 p.m., E.S.T. `He that hath an ear to hear' will come to one of the auditoriums of the convention cities listed below, tied in with Columbus by direct wire. Some of the 30 cities are [21 are listed]. For detailed information concerning these conventions write WATCHTOWER CONVENTION COMMITTEE, 117 Adams St., Brooklyn, N.Y." [On the other side.]