Martin vs City of Struthers

Martin v. City of Struthers, 319 U.S. 141 (1943)

[ Case text here ]


The Rowan vs Post Office Department case was largely built on findings in the Martin vs City of Struthers case ('Struthers'), which was decided in 1943. This case revolves around the City of Stuthers enacting a city ordinance which made it illegal to knock on doors to distribute handouts that contained information about religious meetings. The city ordinance was created to keep solicitors from coming to people's home and causing a disturbance.

The plaintiff, Thelma Martin, confessed to handing out invitations to their religious meetings. Martin's argument was that the city ordinance violated her First Amendment-, as well as her Fourteenth Amendment rights.


The city ordinance tried to impose restrictions for ALL its inhabitants, but the decision whether a visit is permitted lays squarely and only with the homeowner, and that person alone. The court struck down the city's ordinance as a result. It was therefor legal for Martin to canvas and knock on doors to inform people of her meetings. When a contrary order given by the homeowner, and the homeowner alone (e.g. placing a 'No soliciting' sign), would Martin have to yield. The decision to allow canvasser is at the home owners' discretion, and not for any one else, be it the neighbor, the city, the police, the 'Government'.

The case

The Supreme Court agreed with Martin and held that:

"While door to door distributors of literature may be either a nuisance or a blind for criminal activities, they may also be useful members of society engaged in the dissemination of ideas in accordance with the best tradition of free discussion"

Does this mean that anyone has to accept just anyone knocking on the door?

"The ordinance does not control anything but the distribution of literature, and in that respect, it substitutes the judgment of the community for the judgment of the individual householder. It submits the distributor to criminal punishment for annoying the person on whom he calls, even though the recipient of the literature distributed is, in fact, glad to receive it."

"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. In the instant case, the City of Struthers, Ohio, has attempted to make this decision for ALL its inhabitants"

In short, while the ordinance tried to impose restrictions for ALL its inhabitants, the decision whether a visit is permitted lays squarely and only with the 'master of each household' and that person alone.

The Court concludes:

"We conclude that the ordinance is invalid because [it is] in conflict with the freedom of speech and press"

While striking down a government ordinance which tried to regulate speech, the court wholly left intact the notion that a master of household can place such a restriction in place without running into constitutional issues.

The Supreme Court referred to this case multiple times in deciding another landmark case called: 'Rowan vs US Post Office Department'.

The last relevant case is MMS vs FTC, probing the validity of 'opt-out' programs.