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First Amendment to the U.S.Constition

U.S. Constitution: 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.

Numbers in text below refer to footnotes available at: FindLaw Annotation.

Door-to-Door Solicitation .--In another Jehovah's Witness case, the Court struck down an ordinance forbidding solicitors or distributors of literature from knocking on residential doors in a community, the aims of the ordinance being to protect privacy, to protect the sleep of many who worked nightshifts, and to protect against burglars posing as canvassers. The five-to-four majority concluded that on balance ''[t]he dangers of distribution can so easily be controlled by traditional legal methods, leaving to each householder the full right to decide whether he will receive strangers as visitors, that stringent prohibition can serve no purpose but that forbidden by the Constitution, the naked restriction of the dissemination of ideas.'' 176

More recently, while striking down an ordinance because of vagueness, the Court observed that it ''has consistently recognized a municipality's power to protect its citizens from crime and undue annoyance by regulating soliciting and canvassing. A narrowly drawn ordinance, that does not vest in municipal officers the undefined power to determine what messages residents will hear, may serve these important interests without running afoul of the First Amendment.'' 177 The Court indicated that its precedents supported measures that would require some form of notice to officials and the obtaining of identification in order that persons could canvas house-to-house for charitable or political purposes.

However, an ordinance which limited solicitation of contributions door-to-door by charitable organizations to those which use at least 75% of their receipts directly for charitable purposes, defined so as to exclude the expenses of solicitation, salaries, overhead, and other administrative expenses, was invalidated as overbroad. 178 A privacy rationale was rejected, inasmuch as just as much intrusion was likely by permitted solicitors as by unpermitted ones. A rationale of prevention of fraud was unavailing, inasmuch as it could not be said that all associations that spent more than 25% of their receipts on overhead were actually engaged in a profit making enterprise, and, in any event, more narrowly drawn regulations, such as disclosure requirements, could serve this governmental interest.

Shaumberg was extended in Secretary of State of Maryland v. Joseph H. Munson Co., 179 and Riley v. National Fed'n of the Blind. 180 In Munson the Court invalidated a Maryland statute limiting professional fundraisers to 25% of the amount collected plus certain costs, and allowing waiver of this limitation if it would effectively prevent the charity from raising contributions. And in Riley the Court invalidated a North Carolina fee structure containing even more flexibility. 181 The Court sees ''no nexus between the percentage of funds retained by the fundraiser and the likelihood that the solicitation is fraudulent,'' and is similarly hostile to any scheme that shifts the burden to the fundraiser to show that a fee structure is reasonable. 182 Moreover, a requirement that fundraisers disclose to potential donors the percentage of donated funds previously used for charity was also invalidated in Riley, the Court indicating that the ''more benign and narrowly tailored'' alternative of disclosure to the state (accompanied by state publishing of disclosed percentages) could make the information publicly available without so threatening the effectiveness of solicitation. 183

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