WASHINGTON, Oct 15, 2001 (United Press International)--Lawyers for Jehovah's Witnesses will argue before the Supreme Court later this term that an Ohio community ordinance designed to keep them from going door to door is unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court on Monday said it would hear the challenge to the law, which requires a permit before anyone can advocate a cause in the manner favored by Jehovah's Witnesses--knocking on every door they can and engaging whoever answers in a religious discussion.

"Jehovah's Witnesses consider it part of their individual responsibility to follow Jesus's example and go from house to house to speak to people about the Gospel of Christ," a petition for the church group said, "in imitation of Jesus himself going from door to door to teach people about his message."

But one person's religious practice may be another person's nuisance, and Jehovah's Witnesses have not been popular with the authorities in the Village of Stratton, Ohio.

Jehovah's Witness ministers associated with the congregation of Wellsville, Ohio, "have experienced difficulties with village officials," their petition said.

"In the early 1990s, a village policeman chased a group of Jehovah's Witnesses out of town, stating 'I could care less about your rights,'" the petition said. Stratton's mayor personally confronted four female Jehovah Witnesses as they were leaving the village in 1998.

The mayor "told the Witnesses that they were not allowed to be in the village, that people had moved to Stratton with the understanding that they would not be bothered by Jehovah's Witnesses, and that, if they had been men, he would have taken them and put them in jail."

When the ordinance was applied against them, the Witnesses took their case to federal court. A federal judge ruled for the village in 1999.

Although a provision of the permit application was "onerous"--requiring an applicant to supply a list of the houses he or she wants to visit--the judge said village had agreed to provide the Witnesses with addresses, so he let that stand.

The judge did rule that only allowing door-to-door canvassing from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. was unreasonable, and ordered that the ordinance be changed.

A federal appeals court eventually upheld the judge, saying the ordinance applied to anyone wanting to go door to door, not just Jehovah's Witnesses and was not unconstitutionally broad.

The Jehovah's Witnesses then asked the Supreme Court to intervene, arguing in part that their free exercise of religion was being violated.

The Supreme Court, however, agreed only to hear argument on whether an ordinance requiring a permit before going door to door, and requiring a canvasser to display that permit with the canvasser's name, violates the First Amendment's protection for anonymous pamphleteering and discourse.

The Supreme Court has consistently protected such anonymous interaction, most recently in 1995's McIntyre vs. Ohio Elections Commission and 1999's Buckley vs. American Constitutional Law Foundation.

The Supreme Court will probably hear the Jehovah Witness case in February or March.

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