Towns Rethink Door-to-Door Solicitation High Court Ruling Requires Stringent Ordinances to Be Retooled for Religious Groups

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Byline: Jake Griffin Daily Herald Staff Writer

Some DuPage County towns and cities may be risking legal trouble because they still require religious groups to register before going door-to-door.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last month that it was unconstitutional for communities to require any type of registration before religious groups do doorstep proselytizing.

"It would be unenforceable," Paul Keller, Glen Ellyn's legal counsel, said of ordinances requiring religious groups to register.

Keller suggested communities might enact tougher penalties for door-to-door scofflaws who ignore "no solicitor" signs at residences. In most towns those warnings apply to anyone canvassing a neighborhood.

Many cities have enacted this kind of no soliciting provision - and religious groups are likely to follow it - but some communities have been slow to change their requirements.

Naperville has an ordinance that still requires religious groups that try to sell items door to door to register with the city. Its legal staff has told city leaders that the ordinance doesn't need to be amended.

"It's only if they're selling stuff," said Dan Blondin, Naperville's legal counsel. There's always a possibility of a court challenge, he said, adding, "That's the nature of how this (issue) has progressed."

But some legal experts believe cities might be opening themselves up for legal problems by regulating any type of door-to- door canvassing by religious organizations.

"I would see that the requirement of registration would at least be challengeable," said Victor Rosenblum, a constitutional law professor at Northwestern University. "It was a sweeping First Amendment ruling. It's certainly made the waters clearer than they were before by recognizing they have the First Amendment right to do their selling without pre-regulations."

Blondin contends that because Naperville treats all door-to-door solicitors the same, the city's ordinance is fine.

"I'm confident the existing ordinance does not violate the spirit of the recent Supreme Court ruling," he said.

The Supreme Court case involved a small Ohio town that charged a fee to all solicitors and peddlers and required registration. It was challenged by the Jehovah's Witnesses denomination. The court sided 8-1 with the Jehovah's Witnesses, saying the fee and registration impinged on their followers' freedom of speech. …