Join 3,524 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


In a small Ohio town, a fight over the right to knock on doors
February 26, 2002 6:49 AM   Subscribe

In a small Ohio town, a fight over the right to knock on doors You are a Supreme Court Justice. How would you rule on this case?
posted by Postroad (36 comments total)

 
I would say that anyone who wants to knock on doors should be able to do so, as long as cities make sure they will enforce property-owner-posted "No Solicitation" signs.
posted by daveadams at 7:05 AM on February 26, 2002


If we allow property owners to, for instance, throw a bucket of cold water on those who come to their doorstep unbidden, without prosecution, the law should perhaps go. If a yelled "Go away" is sufficient to then allow the unwanted interloper to be prosecuted, the law should perhaps go.

Otherwise, the law should stay.

The right to privacy and private property should far outweigh the right to free speech. In fact, I would argue that the right to free speech will inevitably spring from the rights to privacy and private property, and will inevitably be irrevocably damaged and eventually destroyed from a failure to ensure such rights.
posted by dissent at 7:24 AM on February 26, 2002


I would rule that both parties should go home and take a look hard look at themseleves. Then, if they think that the matter was one which deserved public money being spent on it, to come back.

Then I would tell both parties not to be stupid and send them home again.
posted by Spoon at 7:39 AM on February 26, 2002


"The free one-on-one exchange of ideas is a pillar of our democracy"

While I do agree with this statement, walking up to someone's house in an attempt to sell (or convert) them something, is *not* the "free one-to-one exchange of ideas" that this person is referring to.

The ability to speak your mind is free speech. The ability to approach the doorstep of private property without having to identify yourself is foolish.

Anyone can pretend to be a Vacuum Cleaner Salesman. They could go to your house, knock on your door, explain that they're selling vacuums, and then be let inside and next thing you know all your pets are knocked up.
posted by christian at 7:39 AM on February 26, 2002


You are a Supreme Court Justice. How would you rule on this case?

Okay.
First, I would get drunk. Then, I'd get whole lot drunker. I'd stand straight up, and if I could stay vertical, I'd drink just a bit more. Then I'd ask myself... judging... how important is this to me, as a career? Too late in life to start the street mime thing? Yes? Okay.
I would then drink until I passed out.

Then I'd probably follow dissent's advice.
posted by dong_resin at 7:39 AM on February 26, 2002


I never thought I'd say this, but I hope the Jehovahs Witnesses' win.

Polidoro has the right idea. If you don't want soliciters, clearly post such on your home, and that's that. There doesn't seem to be a need to force people to register with the government just to knock on their neighbors door. That just doesn't sound very "American."
posted by Doug at 7:42 AM on February 26, 2002


Front door wet ware spam. I know I should be horrified, and on some level I am, but the thought of no one ever knocking on my door again is making my heart flutter (like a little girl I suppose, if there is any proof that their hearts flutter extra-much).
Is this any different than trying to gain some control over telemarketers or other spammers? In the end, I am reluctant to involve the government even in useful things like this.
posted by thirteen at 8:06 AM on February 26, 2002


Why should I deface my home with a "No solicitors" sign. It is my property and people cannot step on my property for any other reason, so why should they be able to come to my door to harass me?
posted by mischief at 8:07 AM on February 26, 2002


Everyone has the right to free speech, but I'm pretty sure the Constitution didn't guarantee anyone the right to an audience. Permits are required to stage rallies, hold parades, even to hold fish fries on church properties- this would be an extension of that. They're in essence offering someone a permit to minimally violate someone else's privacy. It wasn't a violation of free speech when the courts mandated pro-life protestors stay at least 100 yards away from the doors of women's clinics. Thus, if the Witnesses want to stand on the (public) sidewalk and wait for people to come out of their homes to minister to them without a permit, or otherwise need a permit to come up to the door, I say fine. Everyone who asks is granted a permit, so the government isn't regulating their speech.
posted by headspace at 8:11 AM on February 26, 2002


It sounds more American to be able to empty a chamber pot from a second story window on an interloper, Doug. As long as it doesn't cause any permanent damage... but, eh, with the biohazard situation/awareness level where it stands, I realize it's not a valid proposition. Now, icy cold water on the other hand...

The default on private property should be "No Trespassing". A special "Visitors/Solicitors Welcome" sigh should have to be posted to give anyone not on official business, or with a prior understanding, permission.
posted by dissent at 8:13 AM on February 26, 2002


Going door-to-door isn't just harassment, it is also an essential part of community organizing. You can't do things like cleaning up neighborhoods and getting the drug dealers out without going door-to-door.

Having done a lot of door-to-door myself, I think the requirement that people who go dor-to-door for more than a day or two need to register with the local police is reasonable. Nobody wants to see their non-profit's canvassing efforts undermined by someone who signs up with the ulterior motive of casing houses or committing crimes. I don't think that fingerprinting should be required. This is yet one more example where our lack of a solid national ID system is a problem.

If you want to have the ability to clean up neighborhoods and keep the dealers out, you have to defend the right to go door-to-door. Maybe you think this problem will never happen where you live -- and I hope it won't -- but if it does, you'll be very happy and relieved when your neighbors start going door-to-door to get organized.
posted by sheauga at 8:28 AM on February 26, 2002


My question for those who feel anyone should be allowed to enter private property and interrupt private life to solicit ideas or goods is this:
Do you support the movement to prevent telephone solicitors from calling without your prior request?

The way I feel about my private property is just that: it is private. The only people who should be knocking on my door or calling me on the phone are people whom I have specifically instructed or invited to do so. When I lived in the suburbs I never answered the door for someone I didn't know, or didn't recognize as a UPS or FedEx delivery person. Frankly this world is not that safe and I don't feel comfortable with allowing people unknown to me near my most private and comfortable of personal spaces.
posted by disaster at 8:33 AM on February 26, 2002


Maybe you think this problem will never happen where you live -- and I hope it won't -- but if it does, you'll be very happy and relieved when your neighbors start going door-to-door to get organized.

Half the people knocking on my door are organizers, and they are the ones who are most irritating. Certainly no better that the dope who wants to sell me some speakers or freelance plumbing. There is no need to knock on the door, if you are organizing, stuff a flier into the trash can I leave out for menus.

I see no benefit to a national ID, and I hope that never comes about.
posted by thirteen at 8:36 AM on February 26, 2002


Use the USPS for community organizing. By placing a mailbox, you are giving explicit permission to a mail carrier to deliver your mail.
posted by mischief at 8:37 AM on February 26, 2002


Another consideration: those strange neighbors with the gated communities or a house in a compound that nobody ever enters. What are they doing in there with their guns, with their small animals, with those 55 gallon drums and the wierd music? Maybe they're Jim Jones followers, maybe they're just another case of the lady with Alzheimer's and 55 abused kitty-cats.

Social pressure beats law enforcement hands down! I would be very uncomfortable with a world where the default was "Go away, all strangers are unwelcome!" But then again, I'm living in a small town in Ohio where people still stop by and knock on the door. Some of us figure that folks who don't want anybody to knock on the door without making prior arrangements by phone probably have something to hide ...
posted by sheauga at 8:39 AM on February 26, 2002


I wonder what the statistics are for door to door salesmen/jehovahs/etc ringing an ambulance after spotting that elderly Mr/Mrs Jones is sadly lying at the foot of their stairs with a broken leg/hip/back?

I bet it's happened. Pass the damn ruling. Let the elderly die.
posted by Spoon at 8:40 AM on February 26, 2002


sheauga- in a community where law itself has gone by the wayside, how would anti-door-to-door ordinances be enforced?

Your arguement is irrelevant, an attempt to boost a communal mind-set, and can be safely ignored. To hell with communities. I don't want my rights doled out communally, and I will observe my responsibilities personally, not communally.

Anyway- Yeah. Right. The police are going to be cracking down on community organizers in a neighborhood where they can't get a handle on crime to begin with. More likely, they'll be escorting them. Get real.
posted by dissent at 8:40 AM on February 26, 2002


Spoon- and perhaps a burglar might do the same. Let's legalize burglary!
posted by dissent at 8:42 AM on February 26, 2002


Remember this phone tactic. Maybe we need a similar approach to solicitors. Never ever talk to them longer than to say "No." If everyone did this we'd have no more solicitors.
posted by jeblis at 8:48 AM on February 26, 2002


dissent: but you *are* part of a community, like it or not.

We elect our government communally, and they act for the benefit of the community. While the constitution seems to be heavy on the individual freedoms, they're *always* balanced with community.

You may choose to remove yourself, as much as possible, from your community, but the default is to participate. By virture of living near other people in the United States, you're in until you take yourself out. That's the purpose of a "No Soliciting" sign. Otherwise, there's an implied contract with the community. You could change that implied contract, but you'll probably have more luck trying to change how people feel about race, religion, and sexual choice.
posted by terceiro at 9:00 AM on February 26, 2002


PS Professional canvassers find out pretty quick that they need to make every effort to respect "No Solicitors" signs, and most avoid houses that are obviously senior citizens. Canvass directors know that when their workers start spotting lots of "no solicitors" signs in a neighborhood, it's time to leave the area alone for a few years. If you're upset with solicitors, a sign by the doorbell does have an effect.
posted by sheauga at 9:03 AM on February 26, 2002


dissent- My experience is that police cruisers generally stop to talk with anyone they spot going door-to-door, regardless of the neighborhood. If they think the area's too unsafe for a woman to be walking around by herself, they'll tell you, and sometimes offer you a ride to a restaurant or other public place. Cops all have better things to do than escort a canvasser, and they don't want it on their conscience if some fool walking around all alone at night comes to a bad end.

(Neighborhood organizers don't necessarily want to be spotted walking around with a policeman, for fear of retribution.)

Having an extra set of eyes and ears out there on the street is a good thing for me, as a woman who likes to walk around without a birka or a male relative escorting me. I feel a bit safer if a neighborhood is mellow enough that people are still willing to go door-to-door. There are some areas full of pit bulls, etc. that are pretty hair-raising.
posted by sheauga at 9:18 AM on February 26, 2002


Sorry - Solicitors? I take it that you mean anyone calling uninvited at a house and not a lawyer? (Soliciting is a whole other matter)

It seems that a law like this would not only put people out of work but would deprive people of goods and services that they may require.

What's wrong with a little sign in the window like the old days?
posted by Spoon at 9:19 AM on February 26, 2002


The problem with the little "sign in the window" is that it sometimes doesn't work.

I had some Jehovah's Witnesses at my door recently. And the door is clearly labeled "no solicitors". However, they still felt free to knock. When I answered the door, and informed them of the "no soliciting" sign, they told me they weren't soliciting, but "spreading the word of the lord, which is not a sale, but a gift of eternal life and happiness." Of course, I told them I'd give them the gift of a lawsuit of they didn't scatter.
posted by benjh at 9:51 AM on February 26, 2002


terceiro- I dispute strongly your contention that the default is participation, particularly when that participation intrudes into the boundaries of *private* property.

There is NO implied contract that allows intrusion onto private property outside the bounds of official business, this business being such as law enforcement, or the maintenance of public utilities. None. If there is, it needs to be destroyed and overturned, for it is the most pernicious of nonsense.

There is no benefit for the community in allowing this behavior, unless it's balanced by the right of the individual to forcibly eject unwanted interlopers who are not on official business.
posted by dissent at 10:02 AM on February 26, 2002


Spoon- if they don't recognize they need it without a door-to-door salesman- they don't need it.

And so what if certain people are then out of work? A job is not a right. Private property is.
posted by dissent at 10:04 AM on February 26, 2002


sheauga- still nothing you say indicates that this law would have a chilling effect on community organization in essentially lawless neighborhoods.

The two don't effect each other. At all.

Are you seriously going to tell me that Jevovah's witnesses are a detriment to crime? That the Fuller brush salesman is a crimefighting crusader?

Sophistry. The law will not be applied in communities such as you are considering.
posted by dissent at 10:07 AM on February 26, 2002


disaster, to follow your post to a conclusion, if the Supreme Court does knock down registration of solicitors, the community could institute a "don't knock" list, similar to a "don't call" list. That, after all, would have some amount of precedent.
posted by mischief at 10:09 AM on February 26, 2002


It seems that a law like this would not only put people out of work but would deprive people of goods and services that they may require.

How? Anyone who wants to go door-to-door selling valuable goods and services can do so by simply giving some basic information. The city isn't turning anyone down or insisting on background checks or waiting periods.
posted by anapestic at 10:16 AM on February 26, 2002


When I answered the door, and informed them of the "no soliciting" sign, they told me they weren't soliciting, but "spreading the word of the lord, which is not a sale, but a gift of eternal life and happiness."

I have gotten that one, and found that nearly everyone has their own variation on it. "I am inviting you to a meeting", "I just want a signiture". "we are a charity" If the sign does anygood I am not aware of it.

My understanding is that this registration does not stop anyone (and truely, I do not want legislation that would) but that does not change the fact that if I don't know you, and you knock on my door, you are an unwelcome jackass, and the one who is disturbing the peace. I think it is strange to be put out by a meaningless permit that violates your privacy, when your entire ovbjective is to violate mine.
posted by thirteen at 10:28 AM on February 26, 2002


My understanding is that this registration does not stop anyone (and truely, I do not want legislation that would) but that does not change the fact that if I don't know you, and you knock on my door, you are an unwelcome jackass, and the one who is disturbing the peace.

Specifically, your or my peace, thirteen. Well said.

And if the law didn't intrude when one treated jackasses as such, we would not need laws such as we have in Ohio. If I can't defend my property with reasonable, if unpleasant, measures. from intrusion because the law will intervene, then I should have the reasonable expectation the law will then take on the full responsibility of defending my property.

Actually, I'd prefer the law butt out if irate property owners run off intruders with a garden hose. But it won't.

And then there's the odious aspect of civil torts if someone who intruded on private property trips and falls- especially if they were being chased off. I have no sympathy for such legal action- if you enter private property, outside of the bounds of official business, or an invitation, I think there should be no expectation of polite, or even necessary less than rough, treatment.

I would view an addressed delivery, such as mail or a UPS package, as an invitation by the way. And the US mail's official business, too.
posted by dissent at 10:42 AM on February 26, 2002


thirteen- The folks you described who pestered you aren't "professional canvassers." People involved in organized door-to-door fundraising or sales are told not to knock on doors with a "no soliciting" sign. If their boss is any good, they tell their people to apologize if they knock on a "no soliciting" door by mistake. Unlike the Jehovah's Witnesses, I believe that a community should be permitted to require registration of canvassers, if law enforcement feels it is helpful. Registration not only deters people from using canvassing as a pretext to case houses for burglaries, it also means that newcomers to door-to-door have to learn the ground rules, like "Respect 'no soliciting' and 'day sleeper' signs" and "Don't knock after 9 PM."

Sounds like there are several neighborly folks in this conversation who need to post their land with "No Trespassing" signs, if they haven't already. Is it still considered justifiable homicide to shoot trespassers in most parts of the country? ;)
posted by sheauga at 11:15 AM on February 26, 2002


Last time we had this discussion.....
posted by Catch at 12:19 PM on February 26, 2002


I think delivery carriers are not solicitors, they are indeed doing a service.

But then you'll have people saying, "I'm not selling anything, I'm delivering Jesus to you. Won't you take some?"
posted by benjh at 8:34 PM on February 27, 2002


If I can't defend my property with reasonable, if unpleasant, measures. from intrusion because the law will intervene, then I should have the reasonable expectation the law will then take on the full responsibility of defending my property.

Why the necessity to be unpleasant to someone who has done nothing unpleasant to you? (I suggest that if you consider a knock on your door during traditionally non-sleeping hours "unpleasant" that you may be misanthropic beyond necessity.) I'm disinterested, pleas don't return, thank you, close the door, end of interaction.

I am continually amazed that everyday interactions with the world are such a dreadful intrusion on MeFites. You cannot follow the legal methods of ending phone solicitations, instead we are rude and suck up callers' time because it gives us some sense of revenge. You cannot tell unwelcome door to door canvassers, evangelists or solicitors to leave and not return, you want to douse them with your hoses -- or worse.

If these people are rude, abrasive or cannot take no for an answer, then a venomous response might be in order. But right off the block? Overreact much?
posted by Dreama at 9:37 PM on February 27, 2002


(I suggest that if you consider a knock on your door during traditionally non-sleeping hours "unpleasant" that you may be misanthropic beyond necessity.)
Actually, it is people talking to me in public spaces that makes me misanthropic beyond belief. I have never turned a hose on anyone, if only because I figure anyone rude enought to knock on my door and ignore my signs is probably low enough, and high on themselves enough to feel they are entitled to revenge themselves upon me. As you can see, I am much nicer than I need to be.
posted by thirteen at 3:11 PM on February 28, 2002


« Older Can't remember your phone number?...  |  Jim Fitzpatricks Celtic art... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments