WATCHTOWER BIBLE & TRACT SOCIETY OF NEW YORK v. VILLAGE OF STRATTON

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Case Basics
Docket No. 
00-1737
Petitioner 
Watchtower Bible & Tract Society of New York
Respondent 
Village of Stratton
Advocates
(Argued the cause for the respondents)
(Argued the cause for the petitioners)
(Columbus, Ohio, argued the cause as amicus curiae, supporting the respondents)
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Facts of the Case 

The Village of Stratton promulgated an ordinance that prohibits canvassers from entering private residential property to promote any cause without first obtaining a permit from the mayor's office. The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., a congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses that publish and distribute religious materials, brought an action for injunctive relief, alleging that the ordinance violates their First Amendment rights to the free exercise of religion, free speech, and freedom of the press. The District Court upheld most provisions of the ordinance as valid, content-neutral regulations. The Court of Appeals affirmed, concluding that the Village's interests in protecting its residents from fraud and its desire to prevent criminals from posing as canvassers in order to defraud its residents were sufficient bases on which to justify the regulation.

Question 

Does a municipal ordinance that requires a permit prior to engaging in the door-to-door advocacy of a political cause and to display upon demand the permit, which contains one's name, violate the First Amendment protection accorded to anonymous pamphleteering or discourse?

Conclusion 
Decision: 8 votes for Watchtower Bible & Tract Society of New York, 1 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Amendment 1: Speech, Press, and Assembly

Yes. In an 8-1 opinion delivered by Justice John Paul Stevens, the Court held that the ordinance's provisions making it a misdemeanor to engage in door-to- door advocacy without first registering with the mayor and receiving a permit violate the First Amendment as it applies to religious proselytizing, anonymous political speech, and the distribution of handbills. The Court reasoned that the village's interest in preventing fraud could not support the ordinance's application to the religious organizations, to political campaigns, or to enlisting support for unpopular causes. Dissenting, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist argued that the Court decision deprived Stratton residents of the degree of accountability and safety that the permit requirement provides.

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WATCHTOWER BIBLE & TRACT SOCIETY OF NEW YORK v. VILLAGE OF STRATTON. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 10 September 2014. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2001/2001_00_1737>.
WATCHTOWER BIBLE & TRACT SOCIETY OF NEW YORK v. VILLAGE OF STRATTON, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2001/2001_00_1737 (last visited September 10, 2014).
"WATCHTOWER BIBLE & TRACT SOCIETY OF NEW YORK v. VILLAGE OF STRATTON," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed September 10, 2014, http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2001/2001_00_1737.