Martin v. City of Struthers, Ohio, 319 U.S. 141; 63 S. Ct. 862; 87 L. Ed. 1313 (1943)

Martin v. City of Struthers, Ohio, 319 U.S. 141; 63 S. Ct. 862; 87 L. Ed. 1313 (1943)

Facts—An ordinance of the city of Struthers made it unlawful for any person distributing circulars or handbills from door to door to ring the doorbell, sound the knocker, or in any way to summon the inmate of the residence to the door. The appellant, Thelma Martin, challenged this ordinance as violating the right of freedom of the press, and religion as guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

Question—Does the city possess the power so to legislate in the light of the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech and press?


ReasonsJ. Black (6–3). The freedom of the First Amendment embraces the right to distribute literature, and protects the right to receive it. Here is a case in which the civil rights of an individual and the rights of the individual householder to determine his willingness to accept a message conflict with the ordinance of this city protecting the interests of all its citizens, whether they want that protection or not.

Freedom to distribute literature is clearly vital to the preservation of a free society. The city may set reasonable police and health regulations, but must leave the individual householder free to decide for himself whether he will receive or reject the stranger at his door. Stringent prohibition can serve no purpose but that forbidden by the Constitution, the naked restriction of the dissemination of ideas. “We conclude that the ordinance is invalid because in conflict with the freedom of speech and press.”

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