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USA Supreme Court has ruled that politicians, religious groups, the Girl Scouts and others have a constitutional right to go door-to-door promoting their causes without first getting permission from local officials.

Banning door-to-door religious solicitation may violate rights of free speech, free exercise of religion and freedom of the press depending on the circumstances.

It is noted that some religious groups knock on doors occupied by tenants and not occupied by the landlord.

What then can a reasonable person, tenant or landlord do to protect their right to quiet enjoyment when religious solicitors selectively knock on the doors of private residences? Clearly, law favors and protects free exercise, so what are the possible solutions to peacefully counter the religious solicitors?

Given the fact that the solicitors do not visit every house and selectively choose which door to knock, is there any law, case law, municipal code, ordinance that applied in this situation to convey to solicitors to keep out based on non-uniform business practices?

Installing a gate/fence is not practical in this situation. Reporting to the police is not legally viable due to Supreme Court precedent.

  • Are you specifically referring to religious solicitations (or perhaps, those of a particular type), as opposed to solicitations in general? – user6726 Sep 18 '17 at 18:15
  • Thanks for the comment. I edited the question to clarify that the (real) scenario involves religious solicitation activity. – Legal Research SWAT Sep 18 '17 at 18:27
  • Not sure why you would think that installing a gate/fence would not be an option. If you put your mailbox on the fence line and lock the gate, I know of no SCOTUS opinions that allow solicitors to enter. – ohwilleke Sep 18 '17 at 21:15
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    @ohwilleke perhaps installing a fence is not an option because the person is a tenant with no control over the yard. – phoog Sep 19 '17 at 0:46
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California state law criminally restricts trespassing via Cal. Pen. 602.8(a):

Any person who without the written permission of the landowner, the owner's agent, or the person in lawful possession of the land, willfully enters any lands under cultivation or enclosed by fence, belonging to, or occupied by, another, or who willfully enters upon uncultivated or unenclosed lands where signs forbidding trespass are displayed at intervals not less than three to the mile along all exterior boundaries and at all roads and trails entering the lands, is guilty of a public offense.

However, subdivision (c) states exceptions, that this does not apply to:

...(2) Any person on the premises who is engaging in activities protected by the California or United States Constitution.

(There are other exceptions for process-servers, surveyors, and labor union activities). Additionally, anyone who remains on property after having been told to go away is guilty of trespass: simple entering when there is a no-trespassing sign is allowed in the case of religious or political canvassing. So at the state level, a division is made between protected activities (First Amendment issues) and non-protected ones (Commerce Clause issues), where criminal trespass is not applicable to religious or political solicitations.

Aliso Viejo limits canvassing thusly:

No person shall enter upon any residence or place of business and ring the doorbell, or rap or knock upon any door, or create any sound in any other manner calculated to attract the attention of any occupant of such premises, for the purpose of securing an audience with the occupant and engaging in peddling, solicitation or canvassing in defiance of a notice described in subsection (C) of this section.

and subsection (c) says:

Notice by the owners or occupants of any residence or place of business of their unwillingness to receive any uninvited peddlers, solicitors, canvassers, or handbills shall be given by displaying a weatherproof card, decal, or sign easily seen from the public right-of-way or the normal entryway to a house or dwelling. The notice must be placed upon or near the main entrance door to the residence or place of business and must state: “No Solicitors,” or words to that effect, with the letters at least one inch high.

Solicitors and peddlers, but not canvassers, are also required to have a license. By their definitions, solicitors request things of value, and peddlers engage in commerce: canvassers engage in First Amendment protected activities, including disseminating commercial information (but not making sales). Violation of the code is punished variably, basically at the discretion of the prosecutor (there being a choice between infraction and misdemeanor dispositions).

The Santa Monica police say that "There are many legitimate organizations that solicit door-to-door, either to sell products and services or to promote a religious, political or charitable cause. However, there are also a growing number of individuals who illegally solicit with the purpose of committing fraud. So when someone knocks at your door, ask the person to produce the required license before he/she begins a sales pitch". The implication is that you have to have a license to engage in "canvassing", which is almost guaranteed to be incorrect (First Amendment thing).

The Santa Monica Code says in 6.32.040 that "Every person engaged in soliciting, canvassing, taking orders or peddling of goods, wares, merchandise or services shall pay a license fee in accordance with Section 6.12.010(a) of this Code" (that section however does not demand a fee for activities not generating money, i.e. political and religious disseminations).

Santa Monica also limits door to door operations via a signage ordinance:

No solicitation or peddling shall be conducted at any place of residence in the City where any sign prohibiting trespassing or solicitation has been posted or displayed. If the sign posted or displayed limits the hours of trespassing or solicitation, no solicitation or peddling shall be conducted at any place of residence in the City during the time period posted or displayed

It is of interest that the signage ordinance does not mention canvassing (and canvassing is not defined), but the license law does. So in terms of legal prohibitions, it depends on municipality, and perhaps interpretation of local ordinances.

Of course, one can always put up a sign saying "No Religious Solicitations" and hope that persuades the person, and one can sue for damages, if there are arguably any damages. "Do Not Disturb" might be more effective.

SCOTUS noted in Martin v. City of Struthers that "Whether such visiting shall be permitted has in general been deemed to depend upon the will of the individual master of each household, and not upon the determination of the community" and ruled that Struthers may not "make this decision for all its inhabitants" (on First Amendment grounds).

Hynes v. Mayor of Oradell addressed a licensing requirement (struck down as overly vague and broad) that covered canvassing, and said

A municipality has the power to enforce reasonable door-to-door soliciting and canvassing regulations to protect its citizens from crime and undue annoyance. The Court has consistently recognized that a narrowly drawn ordinance that does not vest in municipal officials the undefined power to determine what residents will hear or see may serve these interests consistent with the First Amendment

so a license requirement for religious canvassers could be consistent with the SCOTUS stance: if it is narrowly tailored. Subsequently, in Watchtower v. Stratton, the court stated (regarding a licensing requirement) that

§ 107 of the ordinance, which provides for the posting of "No Solicitation" signs and which is not challenged in this case, coupled with the resident's unquestioned right to refuse to engage in conversation with unwelcome visitors, provides ample protection for the unwilling listener

A "No Solicitation" sign then has the desired effect: it is legal to make it illegal to solicit in the presence of a No Soliciting sign. The specific ordinance was not narrowly tailored (to "preventing fraud"); requiring a surrender of anonymity. Other cases such as Ohio Citizen Action v. City of Englewood, 671 F.3d 564, Bd. of Trustees of State Univ. of New York v. Fox, 492 U.S. 469 have overturned anti-solicitation laws as not being narrowly tailored: for instance, solicitations too early in the morning or too late at night are constitutional; and in general, a sign by the owner means "keep out", and the first amendment does not overrule private property rights.

It is unlikely that any ordinance mandating "uniform business practices" would survive; the concept is too vague and unlimited, and would be a significant burden on any business. And, of course, religions have constitutional protections that businesses lack.

  • "Solicitors and peddlers, but not canvassers, are also required to have a license." Does this mean that Girl Scouts selling cookies also need to have a license? Or do they have some sort of exemption? – Thunderforge Sep 19 '17 at 0:16
  • @Thunderforge Solicitation for a charitable or other non-profit entity is still a solicitation. Unless a statute provides a specific exemption, the Girl Scouts would, in fact, need a license for peddling their wares. See, e.g., Kansas Statutes Annotated § 17-1762 (Exemptions for registering prior to making solicitations by charitable organizations) paragraph (l) "the boy scouts of America and the girl scouts of America, including any regional or local organization affiliated therewith;" – Upnorth Sep 21 '17 at 16:03

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