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Court To Hear Jehovah’s Witness Case

October 15, 2001

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Supreme Court said Monday it will decide if an Ohio town violates the rights of Jehovah’s Witnesses by requiring permission from the mayor to canvass neighborhoods.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses claim the 3-year-old ordinance in Stratton, Ohio, was designed to limit their ministry. Members of that faith routinely go door-to-door, giving out free literature and recruiting believers.

In the small Ohio River town, people planning solicitations must first divulge their names, addresses for the past five years and the names and addresses of their affiliations. The mayor grants permits, which a homeowner can demand to see.

The ordinance applies to anyone who goes door-to-door, including salesmen and people seeking donations. Violations are misdemeanors.

The issue for the Supreme Court is whether Stratton’s restrictions unconstitutionally affect one religious group’s activity. The First Amendment guarantees the free exercise of religion and prohibits the government from promoting religion or favoring one religion over another.

``Are religious ministers engaged in a Scripturally based centuries-old practice of communicating their religious beliefs from door to door constitutionally equivalent to peddlers of merchandise ...?″ lawyers for the Jehovah’s Witnesses asked the Supreme Court.

Stratton leaders said that permits are free and no one has ever been denied a permit. The ordinance is reasonable in ``weighing the First Amendment rights of canvassers against the right of homeowners to security, privacy and peacefulness in their homes,″ they told the Supreme Court.

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