A about Jehovah's Witnesses members going door-to-door in has generated a lot of talk, including debate about the law concerning such activity. So let's set the record straight.
First, an explanation about the police blotter itself. The source of these blotters are the call logs, which are not the same as reports, and not as detailed.
In this case, a resident complained that Jehovah's Witnesses did not honor her "no soliciting" sign and argued with her that it did not apply. Police spoke to the people who were at the woman's house and told them not to return. The point wasn't so much that they were not allowed to knock on doors with "no soliciting" signs, but that they should honor the sign in this particular case because they were clearly told they were not wanted at the house.
Melvin Walker, a spokesman for the Hillcrest Congregation, said laws governing solicitors do not apply to Jehovah's Witnesses going door-to-door.
"The key is that we're not soliciting anything," he said. "That (a 'no soliciting' sign) does not apply to us. We're not selling anything. We're trying to share some encouragement from the scriptures."
However, Mel Durchslag, an attorney representing the American Civil Liberties Union, said he's not certain that the Jehovah's Witnesses were not soliciting.
"I'm skeptical about that claim," he said. "It's probably true. They're not asking anything in return for their spiel." However, he said, you don't necessarily have to be selling something to be soliciting, you can be simply trying to present an idea.
What's clear is that they are allowed to knock on doors without a permit – the solicitation law in Mayfield Heights states that it does not apply to "a national educational, civic, religious or charitable organization" or "a local charitable, educational, civic or religious organization."
But solicitors or not, they were not welcome at this woman's house, Durchslag said.
"One can argue about the point of the word solicitor. What was clear is that this person did not want them on her premises," he said.
He added that in this case the resident and police were treating the sign as meaning "no trespassing." He said it's reasonable for a person to expect "no soliciting" to mean "no trespassing."
"Instead of hanging 'no soliciting,' if they hung a 'no trespassing' sign, there would be no argument," he said.
Durchslag said Jehovah's Witnesses have won several court cases defending their rights, but the cases dealt with laws restricting solicitation, not residences with "no soliciting" signs.
"The ACLU is normally very sympathetic to religious speech," he said. "In this case, I don't think there is a court in the world that would say their First Amendment rights have been violated."
Walker said that if a resident tells a Jehovah's Witnesses member that they don't want any more visits, the address will be recorded on a list of places not to stop.
"We'll record that info and we will honor that request," Walker said.
He added that those residences might be visited again periodically because people might have moved or a resident's situation changed and they may be more open to hearing about the word of God.
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