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Court agrees to hear appeal over restrictions on Jehovah's Witnesses.
October 15, 2001 3:11 PM   Subscribe

Court agrees to hear appeal over restrictions on Jehovah's Witnesses. Not sure if this is a repost, but it seems like an interesting discussion topic. The Supremes are "weighing the First Amendment rights of canvassers against the right of homeowners to security, privacy and peacefulness in their homes," says the city of Stratton. But as the Jehovah's Witnesses attorneys ask, "are religious ministers...communicating their religious beliefs from door to door constitutionally equivalent to peddlers of merchandise ...?"
posted by mac (40 comments total)

 
Well it is the layaway plan, eventually you're going to give to the plate. This could have some far reaching affects, like collecting for UNICEF on Halloween and charities at intersections with their little coin cans.

As much as I don't like the JW's tactics (which in themselves drive people away) I also don't like the "Gett off'r my PRA-PEARTY!" mentality. Shotguns full of rock salt anyone?
posted by skallas at 3:19 PM on October 15, 2001


As someone who, himself, has gone door-to-door as a missionary... I find this case intriguing.

I can't see how requiring permits is unconstitutional. The only real issue (for me atleast) is how the permits are awarded. I would certainly hope that these permits are handed out to just about anyone who wanted one, on the condition that the necessary information is accurately provided... and that any fee levied covered for the background check -- but not much else.
posted by silusGROK at 3:25 PM on October 15, 2001


Some of those JV tactics are downright nasty. I remember when I was a kid, one of my friends was approached by them in the street as she rode her bike. They kept attempting to get her to hang around and listen to them preach to her and ask her about mommy and daddy's religion, etc... Never backed off until the parents came outside and chased them off.

I've also had some interesting times attempting to close my front door in their face.
posted by tomorama at 3:26 PM on October 15, 2001 [1 favorite]


Depending on my mood, it's either irritating or entertaining. I've occasionally let Jehovah's Witnesses come into my apartment and talked to them about God. It's fun to get inside their heads and tinker around a bit.

I don't think I ever had anyone on my doorstep more than once every couple months, though. If it was any more frequent, I'd get angry. It's far more disruptive than e-mail spam or junk mail, which have both come under fire in the last few years.

As television/radio/Internet advertising becomes less effective, maybe advertisers will start taking their message door-to-door in the suburbs. "Nike-gram!"
posted by waxpancake at 3:26 PM on October 15, 2001


"are religious ministers...communicating their religious beliefs from door to door constitutionally equivalent to peddlers of merchandise ...?"

no, they're much more annoying.
posted by signal at 3:28 PM on October 15, 2001


Indeed. Worse than the religious folk are the school kids peddling wrapping paper or raffle tickets. At least the JW's seemed prepped in handling rejection impersonally. The kids look so crushed.
I'm amazed this issue got so far up. It seems an egregious breach of free speech. The next thing on the town's agenda would be requiring telemarketers to ask permission to call first. It's what we all want, but we know we can't have it.
posted by dness2 at 3:31 PM on October 15, 2001


I would like to see city or county-based permits for anyone who will be systematically going door-to-door with any message or pitch. That includes the 7 kids who have knocked on my door within the last two weeks selling candles, magazines and candy (make their school get a permit!).

I had a couple Jehovah's Witnesses come by yesterday with a pitch first asking how we were affected in the 9-11 attack. I found it offensive for them to be using that as a soft-sell intro to their message.
posted by fleener at 3:32 PM on October 15, 2001 [1 favorite]


the weird thing is, it must work, or they wouldn't do it. i have a hard time imagining anybody changing his entire world view because of some spaz knocking on his door, but it must happen, i guess.
posted by signal at 3:35 PM on October 15, 2001


Signal, don't jehovahs witnesses believe that at the end of the world, all 144k or so of them will live in peace with talking animals? Seems like those are exactly the kind of people who'd go for a religion sold door to door.
posted by Doug at 3:44 PM on October 15, 2001


I always ask the JW's in if the house is presentable- I've always found them to be nice people, if a little obsessive about poles. I dig a little theological chit-chat now and then. ("Pole". "Cross". "Pole!" "Cross!" "POLE!!")
But there is no such thing as a "free" copy of Watchtower. It's like a "free" Hare Krishna cookbook. They are definitely merchants.
posted by Catch at 3:45 PM on October 15, 2001 [1 favorite]


signal... although I wouldn't use your characterization... you're right: it does happen. Of course, there are better ways to reach people who are "seeking".
posted by silusGROK at 3:46 PM on October 15, 2001


Jehovah's witnesses are a thousand times more fun than simple peddlers or charity types.

I have used a multitude of different techniques on them and almost always gotten the same response: a shocked blank stare and quick retreat.

1. Answered the door with two pet rats on my shoulders.
2. Tell them that I am right into the Watchtower and then tell them I was about to spark up a doob, hot knives, or whatever druggy terms I can come up and that I would be more than happy to play some Hendrix
3. Yell "Witness This!" and start unzipping...
4. Tell them you are a evangelical baptist and that they have stepped off the path and are going to hell.

Fortunately the supreme court won't deny me any fun since I am from the land where beaver is a national symbol and Jehovah's can still annoy!
posted by srboisvert at 3:47 PM on October 15, 2001


Well, according to the article, the "permits are free and no one has ever been denied a permit" and it also sounds like even school children and Girl Scouts would need such a permit in this town. I think it's safe to assume that organizers could just get one permit and submit a list of the people doing the canvassing, so it's hardly a hardship. In fact, I think it's damn fine idea.

Here's what gets me:
Lawyers for the Jehovah's Witnesses said members cannot anonymously practice their religion in the town.

Call me crazy, but if you are coming up and knocking on my door, why are you worried about anonymity? I mean, if everyone has to get a permit, and you're not going to be prevented from evangelizing, what does this have to do with free speech, free press or freedom of worship?
posted by UrbanFigaro at 3:50 PM on October 15, 2001


although I wouldn't use your characterization... you're right, of course.

my apologies to any spazzes I might have offended. I should have said "wackos".
posted by signal at 4:04 PM on October 15, 2001


I would suspect that the JW's are more concerned about the possibility of being denied a permit rather than the 'not being able to practice anonymously' part. After all, why was the law passed if everyone can get a permit?
If you wanted to go door to door to get signatures for a petition to withdraw the law, or anything contrary to the lawmakers in power, wouldn't you be anticipating the possibility of being denied the right?
posted by dness2 at 4:08 PM on October 15, 2001


In my old neighborhood, we had JWs knocking on our door *every* Saturday morning, my only day to sleep in. We even put a sign up "No salesmen, peddlers, religious representatives", etc. After the sign went up, we stopped getting bugged by the kids selling candy, and the guy wanting to roof our house, but the JW's were not dissuaded. I told them once "if I were remotely interested in your religion, I would come to *you*, not vice versa...." They had a canned response for everything. I eventually stopped answering the door.
posted by Oriole Adams at 4:09 PM on October 15, 2001 [1 favorite]


On a more serious note than my previous posts, what I do when some true-believer starts his spiel is put on a grave tone of voice and say "I'm sorry, but I only discuss my faith with my family". Try to keep a straight face, and they'll go away, thinking your religous convictions are so profound, there's no way they could get through to you.
posted by signal at 4:22 PM on October 15, 2001


"why was the law passed if everyone can get a permit?"

My guess is to have a record of who might be going door to door should any one have a complaint about conduct. I agree that people whose intent is to do harm to others probably wouldn't bother to get the permit in the first place but it might stop opportunistic door to door types from sezing the day.

I work for a restaurant that recently engaged in a promotion where a third party marketing group prints and door-to-door sells little cards that entitle patrons to a certain number of buy one get one entrees. Since we've initiated this promotion I've gotten a complaint from an elderly man that he was over-charged five dollars and one from a lady who said one of the salespeople exposing himself to children. Even though these sales people are 100% tracable through the marketing company, some are still (allegedly) being naughty. Maybe this law was enacted to prevent things like that.
posted by jennyb at 4:22 PM on October 15, 2001


Nobody will get a permit. Most people wont even know they'll need a permit. This law will be used selectively by the police to harrass those people they see fit to harrass.
posted by Doug at 4:29 PM on October 15, 2001


Give them a warning once, then call the police to deal with subsequent offenses (post a warning if you have to). No one has the right to trespass on your property to blither at you inanely. As was said earlier in the thread, those who want to hear it will seek it out. All else is marketing, which, even for the religious, one would think would be deemed in extremely poor taste.
posted by rushmc at 4:30 PM on October 15, 2001


I found this article on Jehovah's Witnesses, covering their October 2000 reorganization and legal problems, to be interesting reading.
posted by bragadocchio at 4:30 PM on October 15, 2001


I think you're probably right jennyb, at least as far as the justification for the law in public would go. But I would think that if registration allowed the justice system to more efficiently track down hucksters and flashers then every town would have a law like that by now. This can't be a new idea, right? Minor and major-league criminal behavior by door-to-door types is hardly new. Didn't Bart Simpson do a door-to-door scam?
I'm not advocating sympathy for the Jehovah's Witnesses; I usually smile blandly and close the door even as they are trying to throw out their first counter-argument. However, I betcha that the KKK would be denied a permit just because. And in our fair land, that has been found to be unconstitutional.
posted by dness2 at 4:35 PM on October 15, 2001


Nobody will get a permit. Most people wont even know they'll need a permit. This law will be used selectively by the police to harrass those people they see fit to harrass.


... after which, they'll know to get a permit.
posted by kindall at 4:35 PM on October 15, 2001


As much as I don't like the JW's tactics (which in themselves drive people away) I also don't like the "Gett off'r my PRA-PEARTY!" mentality. Shotguns full of rock salt anyone?

skallas: When did we start making laws based on the way that you (or anybody else) feels about people? A reasoned and objective argument is always more persuasive than prejudice backed up by a glib stereotype.
posted by gd779 at 4:42 PM on October 15, 2001


You could always buy one of these.
posted by wfrgms at 4:49 PM on October 15, 2001


"... after which, they'll know to get a permit."

Unless they are going to deny people permits, why have the permit process? I just don't buy the fraud reasoning. And I've yet to see how a permit would stop "annoyances" if they're going to freely give them away.
And there's also the fact that it's insane that the mayor will have the power to decide who can go door to door, and who can't.
posted by Doug at 4:50 PM on October 15, 2001


I've never had a JV once come to my house...i alsmost wish they did, as i can hold my own in most theological debates (though it can be hard being a Catholic, though, as many (no, not all) Christians look down on some of our views). What would be (and IS) more annoying that someone coming to my door once every few months is religious fanatics at school (University of Georgia) who get into a "hi...my name's bob...let me get your number so i can call you for a religious meeting on saturday morning" (CULT!). they are the most annoying people i know, seeing as they do NOT give up and get offended way too easily. I say no to their wanting my number, and they act like i just tore out their heart or something. I agree its fun to tinker with their brains, though =)
posted by jmd82 at 5:00 PM on October 15, 2001


"it's insane that the mayor will have the power to decide who can go door to door, and who can't."
Why? Elected Representative. I don't like Carpet-brush salesmen, I'll vote for "Diamond" Mcfaverty, he'll run 'em out of town.
posted by Catch at 5:05 PM on October 15, 2001


They stopped coming to our house after my husband offered them a beer. I was surprised that it worked, but I see them up and down our road, they just pass right on by our place.
posted by bjgeiger at 5:51 PM on October 15, 2001


refers to doug: why, that's calvinism!
posted by lotsofno at 6:17 PM on October 15, 2001


Here's how I defeated two JWs, about 10 years ago:

They knocked on the door, Saturday, waking me up. Now, the front door of my duplex was right on the bedroom, so I was fresh out of bed when I answered.

They asked if I felt that life in modern times was more confusing, difficult, and challenging than life in Biblical times. I thought for a minute and said no - life in Biblical times was at least as bad. You might lose your cattle to hoof and mouth disease. Perhaps your wife could die in childbirth, or there could be an invasion of Hittites.

This took them off script, and I held the high ground for the rest of the interview.

Well, I fucked up even TALKING to them, because of course they came back next Saturday. This time I came to the door in boxers and a T-shirt. First thing: I hit them up for money. I told them I was short of funds, and asked if they had a dollar or two to spare.

They never came back - do you think I should have offered them some literature?
posted by crunchburger at 6:45 PM on October 15, 2001 [1 favorite]


I hadda pysch teacher in college who used to invite them in, saying that he and his master, Satan, had been looking forward to their visit. None ever came in.
posted by rushmc at 6:52 PM on October 15, 2001


"are religious ministers...communicating their religious beliefs from door to door constitutionally equivalent to peddlers of merchandise ...?"

yes....in fact the are worse. i take offense at any religion that goes around trying to convert people to there way of thinking. if someone sees something in a religion that appeals to them and chooses to follow it that is fine.

where i live (in austrlia) we dont have a lot of door to door salesman - we sometimes have kids selling chocolates though - but you can always rely on the JW's to come a-visiting. and if you dare to speak to them for any length of time they keep coming back!!! my brother, when he was going through his born-again thing, once invited them in to talk to them - he was trying to preach back at them. they kept coming back every few weeks for YEARS! it was evil!

me and my sister would either turn off tv/stereo/lights/whatever and hide (an old trick of ours) or emma would go get something like Pantera and put it on the stereo very loud as they approached. sometimes worked.
posted by endorwitch at 7:52 PM on October 15, 2001 [1 favorite]


I've made a living (well... I'm in college... it paid the gas bills) door to door for about four months now. I work for a non-profit environmental group in Cincinnati, not too far down the Ohio river from this town. The organization I work for has been harassed by this type of law for quite a while. We've taken it to the courts some 51 times throughout the country, sometimes going as high as the supreme court. We've won every case. Door to door canvassing, at least for non-profits, is or at least has been protected by free speech laws.

Quite a few places that we canvas have these sort of permit laws. The general idea is that the city government wants to know who's out there knocking on doors. Basically the ones I've encountered need a list and sometimes a photo ID of everyone who will be going out canvassing. As I understand it, even these permit laws are in a very grey area of constitutionality. We abide by them because it's not really worth the trouble to fight them.

We're of course very polite about it. We want these people to have good impressions of us so that when we come back through a year later they want to talk to us again. Most people are very glad to see us. We do only come out once or twice a year, which subjectively is very different from the JW's knocking on your door every Saturday, but from a legal perspective it's the same thing. We are even allowed to knock on doors with 'No Soliciting' signs because we're not selling anything. I personally don't, because it's not worth my time to talk to anyone who doesn't want to talk to me (seeing as how I get paid on commission...).

The fact is that door-to-door canvassing has proven to be THE most effective tool for organizations like ours to get our message out. And it's been put to very good use. Toxic Release Inventories and right-to-know laws? You can thank door to door canvassing for those. Same with many electric deregulation decisions and other consumer advocacy issues.

My point is that while someone knocking on your door may be annoying, it's just a tool. It can be used for good or for evil. But there's no sense in making the tool illegal just because some people don't take no for an answer. And by the way, if you ask someone to leave your property and they don't, it doesn't matter if they're door-to-door types or burglars, you can have them arrested just for that.
posted by krakedhalo at 9:52 PM on October 15, 2001


On a less serious note, there's really nothing funnier than the look on a Jehovah's Witness' face when I knock on their door and start canvassing them. Like a deer caught in the headlights I tell ya.
posted by krakedhalo at 9:54 PM on October 15, 2001


!
posted by y2karl at 1:33 AM on October 16, 2001


And by the way, if you ask someone to leave your property and they don't, it doesn't matter if they're door-to-door types or burglars, you can have them arrested just for that.

And if you post your property "No Tresspassing" and "No Solicitors," you don't even have to deal with the initial intrusion.
posted by rushmc at 6:22 AM on October 16, 2001


And if you post your property "No Tresspassing" and "No Solicitors," you don't even have to deal with the initial intrusion.

Or get one of these:

Curb "door-to-door disciples" in your neighborhood!
Red and black 4" square sticker featuring silhouettes of suited church folks with briefcases covered by a large red "cross-out" symbol in the tradition of international signage. Put one on your home's front window and just say no to bible-brandishing zealots!

posted by piskycritters at 7:41 AM on October 16, 2001


Showing up at the door wearing nothing but a sheet works wonders.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:57 AM on October 16, 2001


Those are too cool, piskycritters!
posted by rushmc at 4:51 PM on October 16, 2001


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