PA Towns Says "Never on a Sunday" to Solicitation

August 6, 1999 12:00 am

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FOX CHAPEL, PA — Borough officials here are walking a tightrope between heeding residents’ wishes and preserving free speech rights, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, as reported by The Valley Herald, a newspaper covering Western Pennsylvania.

At its July meeting, the council agreed to restrict permission for soliciting on Sunday to between the hours of noon and 9:00 p.m. Members consulted with borough lawyer A. Bruce Bowden on what restrictions they could impose without infringing on Constitutional rights, the Herald said.

But the American Civil Liberties Union is wary of council’s action and similar ones being taken in municipalities throughout Allegheny County.

“My experience with Pittsburgh area municipalities is First Amendment rights are an afterthought,” said Vic Walczak, Director of the Greater Pittsburgh chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

The ACLU works as a watchdog on restrictions and requirements on governmental actions that undermine Constitutional rights.

“It’s not just the rights of the people coming around. It’s the right of the people in the homes to receive the information,” Walczak said. The civil rights organization has decided to go after communities with restrictive solicitation ordinances.

Within the past two weeks, it notified a community that it intends to file suit unless officials changed regulations about canvassers’ fees. Walczak would not identify the community except to say it was not in the North Hills.

Some time restrictions similar to Fox Chapel’s have been upheld in court. But Walczak called any limitation of time “problematic,” saying Sunday limitations presupposes a religious bias.

“Why not Friday night or Saturday morning rather than Sunday?” he said.

Jack Gardener, executive vice-president of the Pennsylvania Association of Boroughs, said a limitation on visits because of residents attending church might cross the line between the separation of church and state.

In extending another portion of the solicitation permit, Fox Chapel council required door-to-door canvassers to carry with them the listing of all households who do not want to be contacted. The borough keeps a list of such residences.

According to Borough manager William Gordon, an estimated 89 percent of the borough’s residents had asked to be left alone.

Walczak said such a list is permissible under the law as long as it is easy for the canvasser to use.

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