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WASHN: court said.

The Associated Press
6/17/02 10:57 AM

The case turned in part on the notion of anonymity when speaking one's mind.

The court already has held that the Constitution gives people the right to anonymously distribute campaign literature. Monday's ruling extends that right to door-to-door soliciting for other causes.

The church argued that it needs no one's permission to pursue what it views as its mission to take religion to people's homes. Someone going door to door may choose to introduce himself, but should not be required to do so, the church argued.

Two lower federal courts found the permit rules evenhanded, and the church appealed. The Supreme Court reversed, and sent the case back to a lower court.

Rehnquist's dissent mentioned the killings of two university professors in New Hampshire, allegedly by men who had cased the neighborhood by going door to door.

Stratton's law was intended to address such "very grave risks associated with canvassing," and did not unduly limit free speech, Rehnquist wrote.

Stratton, population 287, includes many retirees who were sick of being pestered by Jehovah's Witnesses and others, the town's mayor has said. The Witnesses say the 1998 law requiring a permit was specifically aimed at them, but the town denies that.

The town has had a testy history with the Jehovah's Witnesses congregation in nearby Wellsville.

Anyone who wants to go door to door must first go to the mayor's office and fill out a permit application. The form requires a name and other identifying information, and is kept on file. There is no fee.

The solicitor gets a paper permit, which must be carried for display on demand to the town's one police officer or to any resident who asks.

About 15 people have applied for permits since the law took effect, and no one has been turned away. Jehovah's Witnesses did not apply, because they considered the permit unconstitutional.

The church won victories in the 1930s and 1940s that have helped form the court's modern interpretation of the First Amendment.

Stevens took note of the World War II-era cases, saying they repeatedly saved Jehovah's Witnesses "from petty prosecutions."

"The value judgment that then motivated a united democratic people fighting to defend those very freedoms from totalitarian attack is unchanged. It motivates our decision today," Stevens wrote.

The case is Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York Inc. v. Village of Stratton, Ohio, et al., 00-1737.


On the Net:

Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York Inc.: http://www.watchtower.org/

Supreme Court: http://www.supremecourtus.gov/

Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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