444 U.S. 620 (1980), 78-1335, Village of Schaumburg v. Citizens for Better Environment

Docket Nº:No. 78-1335
Citation:444 U.S. 620, 100 S.Ct. 826, 63 L.Ed.2d 73
Party Name:Village of Schaumburg v. Citizens for Better Environment
Case Date:February 20, 1980
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 620

444 U.S. 620 (1980)

100 S.Ct. 826, 63 L.Ed.2d 73

Village of Schaumburg


Citizens for Better Environment

No. 78-1335

United States Supreme Court

Feb. 20, 1980

Argued October 30, 1979




Petitioner village has an ordinance prohibiting door-to-door or on-street solicitation of contributions by charitable organizations that do not use at least 75 percent of their receipts for "charitable purposes," such purposes being defined to exclude solicitation expenses, salaries, overhead, and other administrative expenses. After petitioner denied respondent Citizens for a Better Environment (CBE) (a nonprofit environmental protection organization) a solicitation permit because it could not meet the ordinance's 75-percent requirement, CBE sued petitioner in Federal District Court, alleging that such requirement violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments, and seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. The District Court granted summary judgment for CBE. The Court of Appeals affirmed, rejecting petitioner's argument that summary judgment was inappropriate because there was an unresolved factual dispute as to the true character of CBE's organization, and holding that, since CBE challenged the facial validity of the ordinance on First Amendment grounds, the facts as to CBE's internal affairs and operations were immaterial, and therefore not an obstacle to the granting of summary judgment. The court concluded that, even if the 75-percent requirement might be valid as applied to other types of charitable solicitation, the requirement was unreasonable on its face because it barred solicitation by advocacy-oriented organizations even where the contributions would be used for reasonable salaries of those who gathered and disseminated information relevant to the organization's purpose.

Held: The ordinance in question is unconstitutionally overbroad in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Pp. 628-639.

(a) Charitable appeals for funds, on the street or door to door, involve a variety of speech interests -- communication of information, dissemination and propagation of views and ideas, and advocacy of causes -- that are within the First Amendment's protection. While soliciting financial support is subject to reasonable regulation, such regulation must give due regard to the reality that solicitation is characteristically intertwined with informative and perhaps persuasive speech seeking support for particular causes or for particular views on economic,

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political, or social issues, and to the reality that without solicitation the flow of such information and advocacy would likely cease. Moreover, since charitable solicitation does more than inform private economic decisions and is not primarily concerned with providing information about the characteristics and costs of goods and services, it is not dealt with as a variety of purely commercial speech. Pp. 628-632.

(b) The Court of Appeals was free to inquire whether the ordinance was overbroad, a question of law that involved no dispute about CBE's characteristics, and thus properly proceeded to rule on the merits of the summary judgment. CBE was entitled to its judgment of facial invalidity if the ordinance purported to prohibit canvassing by a substantial category of charities to which the 75-percent limitation could not be applied consistently with the First and Fourteenth Amendments, even if there was no demonstration that CBE itself was one of these organizations. Pp. 633-635.

(c) The 75-percent limitation is a direct and substantial limitation on protected activity that cannot be sustained unless it serves a sufficiently strong, subordinating interest that petitioner is entitled to protect. Here, petitioner's proffered justifications that such limitation is intimately related to substantial governmental interests in preventing fraud and protecting public safety and residential privacy are inadequate, and such interests could be sufficiently served by measures less destructive of First Amendment interests. Pp. 635-639.

590 F.2d 220, affirmed.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BRENNAN, STEWART, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. REHNQUIST, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 639.

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WHITE, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

The issue in this case is the validity under the First and Fourteenth Amendments of a municipal ordinance prohibiting the solicitation of contributions by charitable organizations that do not use at least 75 percent of their receipts for "charitable purposes," those purposes being defined to exclude solicitation expenses, salaries, overhead, and other administrative expenses. The Court of Appeals held the ordinance unconstitutional. We affirm that judgment.


The Village of Schaumburg (Village) is a suburban community located 25 miles northwest of Chicago, Ill. On March 12, 1974, the Village adopted "An Ordinance Regulating Soliciting by Charitable Organizations," codified as Art. III of Chapter 22 of the Schaumburg Village Code (Code), which regulates the activities of "peddlers and solicitors," Code § 22-1 et seq. (1975).1 Article III2 provides that

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[e]very charitable organization, which solicits or intends to solicit contributions from persons in the village by door-to-door solicitation or the use of public streets and public ways, shall prior to such solicitation apply for a permit.

§ 22-20.3

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Solicitation of contributions for charitable organizations without a permit is prohibited and is punishable by a fine of up to $500 for each offense. Schaumburg Ordinance No. 1052, §§ 1, 8 (1974).

Section 22-20(g), which is the focus of the constitutional challenge involved in this case, requires that permit applications, among other things, contain

[s]atisfactory proof that at least seventy-five per cent of the proceeds of such solicitations will be used directly for the charitable purpose of the organization.4

In determining whether an organization satisfies the 75-percent requirement, the ordinance provides that

the following items shall not be deemed to be used for the charitable purposes of the organization, to wit:

(1) Salaries or commissions paid to solicitors;

(2) Administrative expenses of the organization, including, but not limited to, salaries, attorneys' fees, rents, telephone, advertising expenses, contributions to other organizations and persons, except as a charitable contribution and related expenses incurred as administrative or overhead items.

§ 22-20(g).

Respondent Citizens for a Better Environment (CBE) is an Illinois not-for-profit corporation organized for the purpose of promoting "the protection of the environment." [100 S.Ct. 830] CBE is registered with the Illinois Attorney General's Charitable Trust Division pursuant to Illinois law,5 and has been afforded

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tax-exempt status by the United States Internal Revenue Service, and gifts to it are deductible for federal income tax purposes. CBE requested permission to solicit contributions in the Village, but the Village denied CBE a permit because CBE could not demonstrate that 75 percent of its receipts would be used for "charitable purposes" as required by § 22-20(g) of the ode. CBE then sued the Village in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, charging that the 75-percent requirement of § 22-20(g) violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Declaratory and injunctive relief was sought.

In its amended complaint, CBE alleged that "[i]t was organized for the purpose, among others, of protecting, maintaining, and enhancing the quality of the Illinois environment." The complaint also alleged:

That incident to its purpose, CBE employs "canvassers" who are engaged in door-to-door activity in the Chicago metropolitan area, endeavoring to distribute literature on environmental topics and answer questions of an environmental nature when posed; solicit contributions to financially support the organization and its programs; receive grievances and complaints of an environmental nature regarding which CBE may afford assistance in the evaluation and redress of these grievances and complaints.

The Village's answer to the complaint averred that the foregoing allegations, even if true, would not be material to

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the issues of the case, acknowledged that CBE employed "canvassers" to solicit funds, but alleged that

CBE is primarily devoted to raising funds for the benefit and salary of its employees, and that its charitable purposes are negligible as compared with the primary objective of raising funds.

The Village also alleged "that more than 60% of the funds collected [by CBE] have been spent for benefits of employees, and not for any charitable purposes."6

CBE moved for summary judgment, and filed affidavits describing its purposes and the activities of its "canvassers" as outlined in the complaint. One of the affidavits also alleged that "the door-to-door canvass is the single most important source of funds" for CBE. A second affidavit offered by CBE stated that, in 1975, the organization spent 23.3% of its income on fundraising and 21.5% of its income on administration, and that, in 1976, these figures were 23.3% and 16.5%, respectively. The Village opposed the motion, but filed no counteraffidavits taking issue with the factual representations in CBE's affidavits.

[100 S.Ct. 831] The District Court awarded summary judgment to CBE. The court recognized that, although

the government may regulate solicitation in order to protect the community from

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fraud, . . . [a]ny action impinging upon the freedom of expression and discussion . . . must be minimal, and intimately related to an articulated, substantial government...

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