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Justices Rule Against Arkansas

June 24, 1999

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Supreme Court on Thursday refused to let four Arkansas cities bar people from putting leaflets on cars parked on city streets.

The court, without comment, rejected an appeal in which the cities argued that their ordinances were a valid effort to control litter and did not violate free-speech rights because leaflets still could be handed to anyone willing to take them.

The ordinances were enacted in Fort Smith in 1981 and two years later in Van Buren, Alma and Dyer. They bar people from putting handbills on cars parked on city streets, unless someone in the car is willing to receive it.

Three members of the Twentieth Century Holiness Tabernacle Church filed class-action lawsuits in 1995, saying the ordinances violated their rights to free speech and free exercise of religion.

The church members said they distribute literature in an effort to ``preach the gospel to every living person in the earth.″ They also said that only church members had ever been charged with violating the ordinances.

A federal judge upheld the ordinances but the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that ruling and declared them unconstitutional. The ordinances imposed too broad a free-speech restriction, the appeals court said.

Lawyers for the four cities said the church members still can get their message out by giving handbills to willing recipients. Pamphlets left on cars’ windshields often wind up being thrown on the ground, the cities’ lawyers said.

The cities also argued that the appeals court wrongly awarded attorneys’ fees to the church members.

Lawyers for the church members said the answer to handbills being thrown on the ground is to enforce the laws against littering.

They said the appeals court’s ruling followed ``longstanding precedent that the peaceful distribution of political or religious leaflets is a fundamental right at the core of the First Amendment.″

The cases are Fort Smith vs. Krantz, 98-1753, and Alma vs. Krantz, 98-1954.

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