Who's at the door?
June 17, 2003 1:41 PM   Subscribe

Freedom from annoyance vs. freedom of religious expression A municipal bylaw restricting when Jehovah's Witnesses can go door-to-door protects residents' right to privacy and does not violate the group's right to religious freedom and expression, a lawyer argued Tuesday. The City of Blainville, which believes many of its residents don't want Jehovah's Witnesses at their door on weekends and in the evening, is appealing a lower-court ruling that declared its bylaw unconstitutional. But the three justices cautioned Mr. Paquin that it's dangerous to distinguish between someone's right to religious freedom and their right to express their religious beliefs.
posted by orange swan (56 comments total)
I love talking to Jehovah's Witnesses. I've actually had a couple on my doorstep long enough to make them look at their watches and say, "You know, we really should get going."
posted by mikrophon at 1:52 PM on June 17, 2003

Lawyers representing the Witnesses argued that the 14 people fined under the bylaw since 1997 should be awarded damages of $2,000 each as a message to all publicly elected officials.

If you can be fined for calling one's home with a sales pitch, when asked not to, why not them?
PS, know your bible and talk with them with your push; they don't return.
posted by thomcatspike at 2:01 PM on June 17, 2003

Or you coudl move to Texas and kill anyone who rings your doorbell.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 2:02 PM on June 17, 2003

I thought it was homosexuals that went door-to-door to recruit?
posted by WolfDaddy at 2:03 PM on June 17, 2003

Just caught this, in Canada, which does/or will have laws against the bible, not sure about phone sales.
posted by thomcatspike at 2:03 PM on June 17, 2003

Ignatius, you must wait til dark first, the way the law is written.
posted by thomcatspike at 2:05 PM on June 17, 2003

Ignatius, you must wait til dark first, the way the law is written.

Oh, I thought it was that you could only shoot dark-skinned people. Thanks for clearing that up. It could have been a major faux pas for me to kill someone before sundown.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 2:09 PM on June 17, 2003

I think that it would probably be wise to take the hint and just not show up at those times, if there's this much hullaballoo about it. And I'm Mormon, so that applies to us too (though I think our boys keep pretty reasonable hours, unless I'm mistaken)
posted by oissubke at 2:14 PM on June 17, 2003

I don't think I like this, and religious folks beating down my door generally annoy me. I'd rather have a law that says a sign on my door No Soliciting means that there is some penalty if they decide to ignore the sign. So the next time the Scientologist scum come bothering me they get deprived of some amount of money.
posted by substrate at 2:14 PM on June 17, 2003

So do they want to ban the Mormons too?

When THEY come to the door all I have to say is that my husband was excommunicated from the Mormon church-(which IS true)-the look on their faces is worth the trouble of going to the door.
posted by konolia at 2:16 PM on June 17, 2003

I thought it was homosexuals that went door-to-door to recruit?

WolfDaddy, I think you mean backdoor-to-backdoor. *rim-shot*
posted by soyjoy at 2:17 PM on June 17, 2003

you know, when i was in my 20's, i did a LOT of drinking. for a period i lived around the block from a large catholic church which would, without fail of a sunday morn, roust me into hangoverville with a monstrous pealing of bells the size of boxcars. oh, how i wished for a law...
posted by quonsar at 2:22 PM on June 17, 2003

I don't think it's unreasonable to ban knocking on people's doors. Freedom of religion should include the right to enjoy your own paradigm, at home, unmolested by old ladies at the doorbell.
posted by scarabic at 2:26 PM on June 17, 2003 [1 favorite]

In the past week, I have answered the door to the following:

Jehovah's Witnesses (who did not actually speak English, which made it rather awkward for everyone)
Kids selling subscriptions to get points for a college savings bond (the following papers, on seperate occasions: SF Chronicle, San Jose Mercury, San Mateo something or another)
The pork rind vendor
The lady who sells doilies
The lady who sells fresh corn
The guy who sells pillows silkscreened with cartoon characters (the hell is that about?)
The lady who sells tamales

I bought some corn. And if the tamale lady comes back when I've got cash in the house, I'll buy some of those. I only wish I could find a sign that says "No Solicitors of goods or religions, unless you're selling food or gods that I enjoy".

I'm a little worried that one of these days, one of the surly newspaper-selling kids is going to come back and rob us. They get really fucking cranky when you tell them you read all your papers online, and if you need some paper to fuel the chimney starter, you just steal it from work.
posted by padraigin at 2:34 PM on June 17, 2003

What about girl scouts... ya know, sellin' cookies? Doesn't all of this just fall under solicitation of some sort? I mean it would be one thing if it happened as frequently as telemarketing. I can't even remember the last time someone came to my door uninvited.
posted by Witty at 2:35 PM on June 17, 2003

or even priests with huge bells on the next block.
posted by quonsar at 2:36 PM on June 17, 2003

Religious door-to-door people are a higher form of spam.
posted by Postroad at 2:36 PM on June 17, 2003 [1 favorite]

*rim shot*

Reminds me of all the Recording Industry Management majors at MTSU that, when asked what their plans were after school, replied that they planned to get a good RIM job.
posted by mikrophon at 2:37 PM on June 17, 2003

though I think our boys keep pretty reasonable hours, unless I'm mistaken

They do. Mormons only seem to come in the afternoon. It's a trade-off, though, because while they're less inconveniencing, they don't have anything to offer that's nearly as funny as The Watchtower.
posted by Mayor Curley at 3:10 PM on June 17, 2003

I was a summer associate at a law firm that litigated this type of case. These ordinances routinely get struck down, as they are unconstitutional.
posted by gd779 at 3:14 PM on June 17, 2003

I too have invited many a JW into my house. During college, I often invited them out to the back porch where I would drink whiskey and smoke while discussing the bible. My all-time favorite question:

If only 144,000* of you get into heaven, why are you trying to proselytize me? Aren't I competing for your spot?

*My apologies for this link. It's the best one I could find explaining the doctrine; I wish I had found one from actual JWs themselves, but I'm lazy.
posted by norm at 3:30 PM on June 17, 2003

In the UK, there is, or are moves to make, a law barring 'cold-callers' (people selling goods door-to-door) without invitation.

Sounds like a good idea to me. Sell your wares on the street/market etc. Dont come bothering me at my house unless it's personal business.
posted by Blue Stone at 3:34 PM on June 17, 2003

People are going to say all kinds of things, but personally I would rather hear it from the horse's mouth:

FAQ about Jehovah's Witnesses

"Court cases involving Jehovah's Witnesses make up a significant portion of U.S. and Canadian law relating to freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press. ...The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in favor of Jehovah's Witnesses in 47 cases."

...Like it or not," observed American author and editor Irving Dilliard, "Jehovah's Witnesses have done more to help preserve our freedoms than any other religious group."

Precedent-setting cases won by Jehovah's Witnesses

FAQ about Jehovah's Witnesses

Membership and Publishing Statistics
posted by thisisdrew at 3:45 PM on June 17, 2003

They do. Mormons only seem to come in the afternoon.

That's because they're usually surprising us at our house in the evenings and reminding us that we told them we'd have them over for dinner.

Seriously, if anyone reading this has a missionary on the way to the field, *please* tell him or her to call and remind people first!

posted by oissubke at 3:46 PM on June 17, 2003

And out of curiosity, do we have any jaydubs here on Mefi?
posted by oissubke at 3:50 PM on June 17, 2003

norm: It isn't such a good question as each Jehovah's Witness does not believe they are one of the 144,000. Nor do they believe it is their goal to become one of those 144,000. They believe their reward will be eternal life on earth after the reincarnation.

Personally, I feel that knocking on someone's door and asking if they're willing to talk should be covered under free speech, just ask stopping someone on the street and asking them for the time is.

And try as you might to lump religion with other solicitations, the key (to me) difference is that in the former, there is no commercial transaction involved (especially with the JWs, you can go your whole life as a Jehovah's Witness and never be asked for a dime).

But personally, I've never understood why it is such a horrible thing to have someone knock on your door. If it is inconvenient, I have no problem not answering it (even if they know I'm there) or quickly telling them to move on. And I hate people.

If you feel a Jehovah's Witness has acted improperly, contact your closest Kingdom Hall and tell them.
posted by obfusciatrist at 3:51 PM on June 17, 2003


My complete atheism resulted in me leaving the Jehovah's Witnesses as soon as my parents considered me old enough to make the choice for myself (around 15), but I was raised as a JW from 7 until then.
posted by obfusciatrist at 3:52 PM on June 17, 2003 [1 favorite]

I can't even remember the last time someone came to my door uninvited.
You lucky, lucky man!
posted by thirteen at 3:53 PM on June 17, 2003

norm: It isn't such a good question

Nonsense. It was the best question, because it garnered the best responses. Usually it led to the inevitable free will discussion. I have always been mad that an omniscient/omnipotent God would create my doubting ass just to send it to hell.
posted by norm at 3:58 PM on June 17, 2003

Ok, in that sense it was a good question. I thought you meant it was a good question because it painted them into a logical corner, which it doesn't.

And fortunately, JWs don't believe in hell (as generally conceived; they believe hell is simply eternal non-existence, that is, being denied reincarnation after armageddon).
posted by obfusciatrist at 4:06 PM on June 17, 2003

And fortunately, JWs don't believe in hell

Ah, yes, I had fun with that one too, although that forced me into the (heh) devils-advocate role of defending the Gospels. Sorry to derail the thread; for the record, I am pro-free speech and pro-knocking on doors. If you don't like it, hide.
posted by norm at 4:13 PM on June 17, 2003

I can't even remember the last time someone came to my door uninvited.

of course, the gator-stocked moat presents a formidable obstacle.
posted by quonsar at 4:15 PM on June 17, 2003

I'm annoyed by people knocking on the door, but I'm not harmed by it. I can simply not answer or politely tell people to fuck off under the steaming pile of poo they crawled out from under. This usually wo....

*gets up to answer door. Muffled shouting, crashing noises. Murmuring. Time passes, comes back to computer with glazed look in his eyes*

The Jehovah Witnesses are good people, doing God's work to save us from evil and immorality. Do you believe in Jesus? He believes in you.......
posted by elwoodwiles at 4:48 PM on June 17, 2003

144,000... is that like a kilogross?

I do remember in college when one person on the quad started reading from "the book of Chem" when the moonies came around. Talk about some dazed and confused folks....
posted by Eekacat at 5:19 PM on June 17, 2003

Door chain or intercom + "Hang on a minute, I need to wash off the blood" = no religious solicitors.
posted by Foosnark at 5:20 PM on June 17, 2003

Does anybody want anyone trying to sell them something at their door? Vacuums, Encylopedias, Jesus... it's all the same to me.

Simple solution: a no soliciting sign. Most states have a law that states when "No Soliciting" is posted it must be obeyed. I don't discriminate against JWs, I just don't want ANY salespeople on my doorstep. Ever.
posted by benjh at 5:32 PM on June 17, 2003

But Benjh, when the tamale lady comes, I don't want her to think that when I say "No Solicitors", that I mean her.
posted by padraigin at 5:48 PM on June 17, 2003

I concur with several above-- 'No Solicitors' should mean 'Don't knock on my door unless you have personal business with those inside.'

It's a neat, clean solution to the problem without infringing on anyone's rights.
posted by Cerebus at 6:51 PM on June 17, 2003

But personally, I've never understood why it is such a horrible thing to have someone knock on your door. If it is inconvenient, I have no problem not answering it (even if they know I'm there) or quickly telling them to move on. And I hate people.

Exactly. I'm well known for not answering doors even when it's completely obvious that there are people at home, and the three dogs are howling at the doorbell. When I do, if I'm not interested in whatever the person has to offer, I say so politely and close the door. It's not hard.

It's funny, in the thread about racist chanting at soccer matches, people were complaining about people being too sensitive and getting offended too easily when people do things in an intentional effort to belittle and demean them. To me, this is just the reverse situation. Most door knockers, even religiously minded ones, aren't intentionally trying to offend anyone. Their motivation is benign, even good-willed, to their minds. If people are supposed to suck it up when a drunken, belligerent crowd is chanting slurs, how much moreso should people just deal with it when someone just rings their doorbell?

On a personal note -- Even when I've seen that there are JW and Mormon missionaries on our street, I haven't had one ringing the bell here save the one who came the week we moved in, and is actually a neighbor who came to say hello and, coincidentally, invite me to the Kingdom Hall. Methinks that they may come as far as the porch, but once they get a look at the rather conspicuous mezuzah on our doorpost, they take it as a sign that we're not going to be responsive to their pitch.
posted by Dreama at 7:07 PM on June 17, 2003

yep, this seems, like the football laws, to be a confusion of expression and action. JWs, like football fans, should have the right to express whatever it is they want to express. But the way in which they do so can be regulated: obviously, if someone wanted to express their opinion by carving it into someone's arm, that would not be acceptable. It should not be that the opinion (a race is inferior, a religion is superior) is not allowed to be held, but that the manner of expressing this opinion does not infringe on anyone's rights.

Players in a soccer match may have the right not to be harassed, whether by racist commentary or just annoyingly loud fans; people in their homes may have the right not to be harassed as well. These rights can be exercised by the owners of the house or the stadium. None of this should imply that certain beliefs - that thoughts - are illegal. It is only the actions which can be regulated, and those actions apply to any thoughts so expressed, not just those which are distasteful to a particular group.

If you want tamales but no religion, just say no thanks to the JWs. I used to take pleasure in arguing points with them, too, but it usually gets old; the kinda people who actually go out to solicit new members are not usually the most willing to take a critical thinking approach to the material, so you can end up talking to a wall. They either get antsy or they just repeat themselves nonsensically.
posted by mdn at 7:17 PM on June 17, 2003

I get a lot -- A LOT -- of missionaries of all stripes knocking on my door. I don't know if it's the 666 painted on my garage or what.

Here's what works for me: I try to convert them to something else. It doesn't really matter what, although I tend to try Hinduism with LDS folks and Buddhism with JWs. I think that I like the borderline sychronicity of those pairings. It gets rid of them pretty quickly, and you can have some great discussions.

Also, it's the only use that I've found for my religious studies degree.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 8:15 PM on June 17, 2003

I can't even remember the last time someone came to my door uninvited.
of course, the gator-stocked moat presents a formidable obstacle.

Note to self: here is possible solution for stopping parents from "just dropping by".
posted by given2fli at 9:22 PM on June 17, 2003 [1 favorite]

I've quit answering the door. Primarily because some of the people they have selling "magazines for points" are really spooky. Some of them have made me very glad I have a big, scary dog.

I agree with scarabic's take.

The freedom to practice a religion is not being stopped by this ordinance. Evangelicals can still go in public places and share their message. But *just because* they are feeling evangelical should not mean that they should have the right to come pester me with their pamphlets of glory.
posted by dejah420 at 9:41 PM on June 17, 2003

Personally, I feel that knocking on someone's door and asking if they're willing to talk should be covered under free speech

Your freedom of speech ends at the edge of my property. If you're not delivering something, and aren't invited, you have no business being on my property.

Now, if you want to stand down at the public property of the street and catch me while I'm on my way out, that's a completely different matter. (However, I do advise not standing in the way of the Jeep, because I might just run over you rather than listen to you).

I think my township has one of those laws requiring soliciters to get a permit first. I also think it's routinely ignored. I need to start asking people if they have the permit and calling the cops if they don't.

And even more annoying are those soliciters that don't even take the courtesy to use the sidewalk, but cut across the lawn to the next house.

(Now, that being said, my experience has been that Mormons and JW's tend to be the politest soliciters that I ever get. Compared to some of the annoying ones I've gotten I'd rather get them.)
posted by piper28 at 10:02 PM on June 17, 2003

JWs used to come a-knocking fairly frequently in my old neighborhood. One Saturday morning, after a very late and alcohol-soaked night-before, I was awakened by JWs ringing my doorbell. I answered it in my underwear, looking about as awful as I ever have, and growled, "You ... woke ... me ... up." Oddly enough, none of them ever returned.

Now in the new neighborhood, we've been getting them again. Last Saturday my partner answered the door and declined their offer of tracts and chat by politely saying, "We already belong to a church of our own, so no, thank you." Had I been at the door, I would have loved to have added, "Besides, we're two homosexuals in a committed, long-term relationship, and we drink cocktails daily." Perhaps that might have achieved the same end as the almost-naked, Morgus-haired, foul-breathed visage I presented to that earlier pair (although less frightening).
posted by chuq at 10:45 PM on June 17, 2003

...here is possible solution for stopping parents from "just dropping by"

The other solution being, of course, to answer the door having been in the middle of shagging your girlfriend. Bulging groin, moist face, disheveled hair, and panting. And have her cry out "Given2fli, oh, get back here and finish me off!"

I'm fairly certain that'd end the unannounced visits.

I also suspect it would cut short any door-to-door religious salespitches.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:40 AM on June 18, 2003

When I was in college, I came home one day to find my roomate chatting with a couple of rather attractive young JW girls. I proceeded to roll a fattie and partake while listening in on the conversation. They were out the door within a minute, heh.
posted by reidfleming at 5:30 AM on June 18, 2003

Living in the city, I take the view that well dressed church-folk walking around are a crime deterrent. What about trick-or-treating? Would you have to get a permit for that?
posted by rainbaby at 7:13 AM on June 18, 2003

You know, I've never had a problem with "getting rid" of missionaries (either LDS or JW). All you have to do is either not answer the door or answer it and say, "I'm sorry, but I'm not interested." The same works for other solicitors. There's no call to be nasty about it.
posted by eilatan at 7:36 AM on June 18, 2003

Door-to-door religious solicitations obviously are covered in the United States by the First Amendment, and the Jehovah's Witnesses are right to be proud of their protection of our freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

But this ordinance was adopted in a Canadian town. Can a Canadian Mefier tell us whether Canada has something similar to the U.S. First Amendment? Is religious freedom enshrined in the constitution, or is there a federal law, or what? What exactly does it say?

Text of First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."
posted by Holden at 8:25 AM on June 18, 2003

Well, section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is Part 1 of the Constitution Act, 1982, says:

Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:
(a) freedom of conscience and religion;
(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
(c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and
(d) freedom of association.

(I'd better pop in a caveat here - I'm not a lawyer, only a editor at a legal publishing house, so this is a layperson's view.)

In other words, our constitution is just as open to debate and wildly varied interpretation as the American constitution. Generally one is allowed freedom of speech as long as one does not directly harm another thereby. One can't, to use a much quoted case law example, yell "Fire" in a crowded theatre without getting in trouble for it. One can't slander or libel others. One can't utter death threats. I'd classify this door-to-door peddling of religion as a nuisance rather than a harmful thing - if you tell a JW to leave (either politely or with instructions of an explicit sexual nature) they will, and then you can return to your nap or sexual adventure or about-to-burn lentil burgers or what have you.

What I found thought provoking about this link - but that never got discussed - was the government's attempt to regulate the religious sales call. They are going to licence it, and charge people money for the privilege of doing it, and limit the occasions on which they can do so. Yes, we all find the JW and Mormon sales calls annoying (unless we're smartassed types with hours of free time on our hands, like mikrophon). We'd probably be glad to find those visits decreased. But I'm not sure the means justifies the ends. I'm not sure the government has the right to charge people for the privilege of knocking on my door. I like the "no means no" no soliciting sign idea better.
posted by orange swan at 11:14 AM on June 18, 2003

Thanks, orange swan, and "amen" to your last paragraph.

Reasonable restrictions on the time and manner of proselytizing (no knocking on doors at 3 a.m., no truck-mounted loudspeakers in residential neighborhoods) are fine, but to restrict those polite JWs from going door-to-door in the daytime -- no. That would be an unacceptable law. As I said before, the JWs are protecting the rights of everyone when they challenge such laws.
posted by Holden at 11:25 AM on June 18, 2003

Oog, that should have been "ends justifies the means".

Must say though... one Saturday a few months back I was leaving my apartment building to go grocery shopping and I saw a HERD of JW's or Mormons in the parking lot. There must have been about two dozen of them clustered together, all of them discussing which floors each pair would take. I congratulated myself on my timely exit. The whole evangelical approach to religion makes me VERY skittish and uncomfortable.

But then, as a Quaker, I belong to an organization where one actually hears discussions of whether it's right to put a "Society of Friends" sign up outside the meeting house - "If people are really led to become Friends, they'll find us."
posted by orange swan at 11:53 AM on June 18, 2003

I haven't been visited by missionaries since I left the suburbs. There's something about downtown buildings with secured entrances that seems to deter them. There are plenty of ways to make them go away, though, and none so costly that it's worth making laws that risk freedom of speech over.
posted by Mars Saxman at 12:09 PM on June 18, 2003

lentil burgers

I love those, but JW o'clock in the morning is a bit early.

I'm a Christian, and to be honest I hate those door-to-door things that occasionally get planned-my opinion is that it's a turnoff, but I suppose-for those who are interested-some good conversations ensue.

I have on occasion been part of a program where we left free Jesus videos on people's doors-or stuff just inviting them to church, letting them know who to contact if they have any interest. But I hate bothering people.

If the disciples didn't knock on doors, I don't feel an obligation either. But then I'd stink as a salesperson too, so this might be a personality issue.

Actually I do like it when JW or Mormon or whatever come to the door-I have had some very interesting conversations where I proseletyze them right back. Hey, they started it!
posted by konolia at 12:33 PM on June 18, 2003

JW's are best with a bottle of fine Chianti.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:03 PM on June 18, 2003

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