Full Text of Case
U.S. Supreme Court
Martin v. City of Struthers, 319 U.S. 141 (1943)
Martin v. City of Struthers
Argued March 11, 1943
Decided May 3, 1943
319 U.S. 141
APPEAL FROM THE SUPREME COURT OF OHIO
A municipal ordinance forbidding any person to knock on door, ring doorbells, or otherwisesummon 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. 319 U. S. 142, 319 U. S. 149.
139 Ohio St. 372, 40 N.E.2d 154, reversed.
Appeal from the dismissal of an appeal froma judgment affirming a conviction for violation of a municipal ordinance.
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 ofpublic 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 federalConstitution's
Page 319 U. S. 142
guarantee of free speech and press, possesses this power. [Footnote 1]
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, sheproceeded 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 anyresidence 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 rightof freedom of press and religion as guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments. [Footnote 2]
Page 319 U. S. 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 triumphover slothful ignorance. [Footnote 3] This freedom embraces the right to distribute literature, Lovell v. Griffin, 303 U. S. 444, 303 U. S. 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, 308 U. S. 162. Yet the peace, good order, andcomfort of the community may imperatively require regulation of the time, place and manner of distribution. Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U. S. 296, 310 U. S. 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...