319 U.S. 141 (1943), 238, Martin v. City of Struthers

Docket Nº:No. 238
Citation:319 U.S. 141, 63 S.Ct. 862, 87 L.Ed. 1313
Party Name:Martin v. City of Struthers
Case Date:May 03, 1943
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 141

319 U.S. 141 (1943)

63 S.Ct. 862, 87 L.Ed. 1313

Martin

v.

City of Struthers

No. 238

United States Supreme Court

May 3, 1943

Argued March 11, 1943

APPEAL FROM THE SUPREME COURT OF OHIO

Syllabus

A municipal ordinance forbidding any person to knock on door, ring doorbells, or otherwise summon to the door the occupants of any residence for the purpose of distributing to them handbills or circulars, held -- as applied to a person distributing advertisements for a religious meeting -- invalid under the Federal Constitution as a denial of freedom of speech and press. Pp. 142, 149.

139 Ohio St. 372, 40 N.E.2d 154, reversed.

Appeal from the dismissal of an appeal from a judgment affirming a conviction for violation of a municipal ordinance.

BLACK, J., lead opinion

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

Page 142

guarantee of free speech and press, possesses this power.1

[63 S.Ct. 863] 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.2

Page 143

The right of freedom of speech and press has broad scope. The authors of the First Amendment knew that novel and unconventional ideas might disturb the complacent, but they chose to encourage a freedom which they believed essential if vigorous enlightenment was ever to triumph over slothful ignorance.3 This freedom embraces the right to distribute literature, Lovell v. Griffin, 303 U.S. 444, 452, and necessarily protects the right to receive it. The privilege may not be withdrawn even if it creates the minor nuisance for a community of cleaning litter from its streets. Schneider v. State, 308 U.S. 147, 162. Yet the peace, good order, and comfort of the community may imperatively require regulation of the time, place and manner of distribution. Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296, 304. No one supposes, for example, that a city need permit a man with a communicable disease to distribute leaflets on the street or to homes, or that the First Amendment prohibits a state from preventing the distribution of leaflets in a church against the will of the church authorities.

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,

Page 144

it substitutes the judgment of the community for the judgment of the individual householder. It submits the distributor to criminal punishment for annoying the person on whom he calls, even though the recipient of the literature distributed is, in fact, glad to receive it. In considering legislation which thus limits the dissemination of knowledge, we must "be astute to examine the effect of the challenged [63 S.Ct. 864] legislation," and must "weigh the circumstances and . . . appraise the substantiality of the reasons advanced in support of the regulation." Schneider v. State, supra, 161.

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,4 has vigorously argued that its inhabitants frequently work on swing shifts, working nights and sleeping days, so that casual bell pushers might seriously interfere with the hours of sleep although they call at high noon. In addition, burglars frequently pose as canvassers, either in order that they may have a pretense to discover whether a house is empty, and hence ripe for burglary, or for the purpose of spying out the premises in order that they may return later.5 Crime prevention may thus be the purpose of regulatory ordinances.

Page 145

While door-to-door distributors of literature may be either a nuisance or a blind for criminal activities, they may also be useful members of society engaged in the dissemination of ideas in accordance with the best tradition of free discussion. The widespread use of this method of communication by many groups espousing various causes attests its major importance.

Pamphlets have proved most effective instruments in the dissemination of opinion. And perhaps the most effective way of bringing them to the notice of individuals is their distribution at the homes of the people.

Schneider v. State, supra, 164. Many of our most widely established religious organizations have used this method of disseminating their doctrines,6 and laboring groups have used it in recruiting

Page 146

their members. [63 S.Ct. 865]7 The federal government, in its current war bond selling campaign, encourages groups of citizens to distribute advertisements and circulars from house to house.8 Of, course, as every person acquainted with political life knows, door to door campaigning is one of the most accepted techniques of seeking popular support, while the circulation of nominating papers would be greatly handicapped if they could not be taken to the citizens in their homes.9 Door-to-door distribution of circulars is essential to the poorly financed causes of little people.

Freedom to distribute information to every citizen wherever he desires to receive it is so clearly vital to the

Page 147

preservation of a free society that, putting aside reasonable police and health regulations of time and manner of distribution, it must be fully preserved. The dangers of distribution can so easily be controlled by traditional legal methods, leaving to each householder the full right to decide whether he will receive strangers as visitors, that stringent prohibition can serve no purpose but that forbidden by the Constitution, the naked restriction of the dissemination of ideas.

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,10 while similar statutes of narrower scope are on the books of at least twelve states more.11 We know of no state which,

Page 148

as does the Struthers ordinance in effect, makes a person a criminal trespasser if he enters the property of another for an innocent purpose without an explicit command [63 S.Ct. 866] from the owners to stay away.12 The National Institute of Municipal Law Officers has proposed a form of regulation to its member cities13 which would make it an offense for any person to ring the bell of a householder who has appropriately indicated that he is unwilling to be disturbed. This or any similar regulation leaves the decision as to whether distributors of literature may lawfully call at a home where it belongs -- with the homeowner himself. A city can punish those who call at a home in defiance of the previously expressed will of the occupant and, in addition, can, by identification devices, control the abuse of the privilege by criminals posing as canvassers.14 In any case, the problem must be worked

Page 149

out by each community for itself with due respect for the constitutional rights of those desiring to distribute literature and those desiring to receive it, as well as those who choose to exclude such distributors from the home.

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...

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632 practice notes
  • 974 F.Supp.2d 1150 (N.D.Ill. 2013), 11 C 4870, Gray v. Cannon
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 7th Circuit Northern District of Illinois
    • 16 Julio 2013
    ..." embraces the right to distribute literature and necessarily protects the right to receive it." Martin v. City of Struthers, 319 U.S. 141, 143, 63 S.Ct. 862, 87 L.Ed. 1313 (1943) (citation omitted). Moreover, " sexual expression which is indecent but not obscene is protected......
  • 133 So.2d 697 (Ala.App. 1961), 6 Div. 797, Gober v. City of Birmingham
    • United States
    • Alabama Alabama Court of Appeals
    • 30 Mayo 1961
    ...as an invited licensee was destroyed, and he was thereafter on the premises as a trespasser. As stated in Martin v. City of Struthers, 319 U.S. 141, 147, 63 S.Ct. 862, 865, 87 L.Ed. 1313: 'Traditionally the American law punishes persons who enter onto the property of another after having be......
  • 14 Cal.App.3d 167, Civ. 35846, Van Nuys Publishing Co. v. City of Thousand Oaks
    • United States
    • California California Court of Appeals
    • 8 Enero 1971
    ...substantiality of the reasons advanced in support of the regulation of the free enjoyment of the rights.' (See also Martin v. Struthers, 319 U.S. 141, 144, 63 S.Ct. 862, 87 L.Ed. 1313.) Although freedom of speech and press are preferred rights which enjoy special constitutional protection, ......
  • 109 Misc.2d 904, Anderson v. WROC-TV
    • United States
    • New York Supreme Court of New York
    • 13 Julio 1981
    ...private residence without request or invitation a nuisance. The constitutional principles in that case as well as in Martin v. Struthers, 319 U.S. 141, 63 S.Ct. 862, 87 L.Ed. 1313, in which the U. S. Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional a city ordinance making it an unlawful trespa......
  • Free signup to view additional results
578 cases
  • 974 F.Supp.2d 1150 (N.D.Ill. 2013), 11 C 4870, Gray v. Cannon
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 7th Circuit Northern District of Illinois
    • 16 Julio 2013
    ..." embraces the right to distribute literature and necessarily protects the right to receive it." Martin v. City of Struthers, 319 U.S. 141, 143, 63 S.Ct. 862, 87 L.Ed. 1313 (1943) (citation omitted). Moreover, " sexual expression which is indecent but not obscene is protected......
  • 133 So.2d 697 (Ala.App. 1961), 6 Div. 797, Gober v. City of Birmingham
    • United States
    • Alabama Alabama Court of Appeals
    • 30 Mayo 1961
    ...as an invited licensee was destroyed, and he was thereafter on the premises as a trespasser. As stated in Martin v. City of Struthers, 319 U.S. 141, 147, 63 S.Ct. 862, 865, 87 L.Ed. 1313: 'Traditionally the American law punishes persons who enter onto the property of another after having be......
  • 14 Cal.App.3d 167, Civ. 35846, Van Nuys Publishing Co. v. City of Thousand Oaks
    • United States
    • California California Court of Appeals
    • 8 Enero 1971
    ...substantiality of the reasons advanced in support of the regulation of the free enjoyment of the rights.' (See also Martin v. Struthers, 319 U.S. 141, 144, 63 S.Ct. 862, 87 L.Ed. 1313.) Although freedom of speech and press are preferred rights which enjoy special constitutional protection, ......
  • 109 Misc.2d 904, Anderson v. WROC-TV
    • United States
    • New York Supreme Court of New York
    • 13 Julio 1981
    ...private residence without request or invitation a nuisance. The constitutional principles in that case as well as in Martin v. Struthers, 319 U.S. 141, 63 S.Ct. 862, 87 L.Ed. 1313, in which the U. S. Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional a city ordinance making it an unlawful trespa......
  • Free signup to view additional results
3 firm's commentaries
  • Fourth Circuit's Decision Revitalizes First Amendment Challenge To The TCPA
    • United States
    • Mondaq United States
    • 27 Junio 2019
    ...the United States Supreme Court considered the constitutionality of an ordinance that prohibited door knocking in Martin v. Struthers, 319 U.S. 141 (1943). The Supreme Court, in its landmark free speech decision, concluded that the ordinance was invalid because it was in conflict with the f......
  • Fourth Circuit’s Decision Revitalizes First Amendment Challenge to the TCPA
    • United States
    • JD Supra United States
    • 17 Junio 2019
    ...the United States Supreme Court considered the constitutionality of an ordinance that prohibited door knocking in Martin v. Struthers, 319 U.S. 141 (1943). The Supreme Court, in its landmark free speech decision, concluded that the ordinance was invalid because it was in conflict with the f......
  • Facebook’s Birthday Text Lawsuit Survives Pleadings Stage; TCPA Survives Strict Scrutiny for the First Time
    • United States
    • JD Supra United States
    • 31 Enero 2017
    ...is surely the least intrusive way a diner may become aware of a birthday during his meal.) There’s also no mention of Martin v. Struthers, 319 U.S. 141 (1943), a Supreme Court decision that obliterates the uninvited-speech-can-be-regulated line of And so the TCPA freight train rumbles along......
41 books & journal articles
  • Incidental restrictions of speech and the First Amendment: motive-based rationalization of the Supreme Court's jurisprudence.
    • United States
    • Constitutional Commentary Vol. 12 Nbr. 3, December 1995
    • 22 Diciembre 1995
    ...reference to its content. See Clark v. Community for Creative Non-Violence, 468 U.S. 288, 294 (1984). (5.) Martin v. City of Struthers, 319 U.S. 141 (1943). (6.) Members of the City Council of Los Angeles v. Taxpayers for Vincent, 466 U.S. 789 (1984). (7.) Laws that "inevitably burden ......
  • The First Amendment and the mind/body problem.
    • United States
    • Suffolk University Law Review Vol. 41 Nbr. 3, June 2008
    • 22 Junio 2008
    ...(1984) (upholding ordinance prohibiting sign posting for political candidate on public property). (194.) See Martin v. City of Struthers, 319 U.S. 141, 157 (1943). (195.) See Marsh v. Alabama, 326 U.S. 501, 516-17 (1946). (196.) Martin v. City of Struthers, 319 U.S. 141, 147-48 (1943). (197......
  • Filth, filtering, and the First Amendment: ruminations on public libraries' use of Internet filtering software.
    • United States
    • Federal Communications Law Journal Vol. 53 Nbr. 2, March 2001
    • 1 Marzo 2001
    ...that occurs in a public forum, is determined by the non-owners who use the phone lines or the forum. (45.) Martin v. Struthers, 319 U.S. 141, 146 (1943); TRINE, supra note 33, at 987 ("The `public forum' doctrine holds that restrictions on speech should be subject to higher scrutiny wh......
  • Data retention: privacy, anonymity, and accountability online.
    • United States
    • Stanford Law Review Vol. 56 Nbr. 1, October 2003
    • 1 Octubre 2003
    ...persons of modest means or limited mobility, a yard or window sign may have no practical substitute"); Martin v. City of Struthers, 319 U.S. 141, 146 (1943) (invalidating a city ordinance banning door-to-door solicitation and pointing out that "[d]oor to door distribution of circu......
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2 provisions
  • Telemarketing sales rule,
    • United States
    • Federal Register January 29, 2003
    • 29 Enero 2003
    ...to honor a ``no solicitation'' sign posted by a homeowner, which the Supreme Court has approved in such cases as Martin v. Struthers, 319 U.S. 141 (1941), involving ``a form of regulation . . . which would make it an offense for any person to ring the bell of a householder who has appropria......
  • Separate Parts In This Issue Part III Federal Trade Commission,
    • United States
    • Federal Register January 29, 2003
    • 29 Enero 2003
    ...to honor a ``no solicitation'' sign posted by a homeowner, which the Supreme Court has approved in such cases as Martin v. Struthers, 319 U.S. 141 (1941), involving ``a form of regulation . . . which would make it an offense for any person to ring the bell of a householder who has appropria......