‘Know before you knock…’

Guidelines for door-to-door evangelizing, solicitation

By John Rech news@theeveningtimes.com

It’s been happening for 2,000 years. Jesus told his followers to go into all the world making disciples. From the beginning the apostle Paul made evangelistic house calls. According to his farewell to Ephesus recorded in Acts 20:20,21 Paul said in part I did not shrink back declaring the gospel both “publicly and from house to house.” Given the First Amendment in the U.S. Constitution and the November 2015 Arkansas Religious Freedom Act, the Jehovah’s Witnesses are flexing their freedom in White Hall. The door to Door evangelists are suing the city of White Hall calling the requirements there for a $50 personal background checks prior to door knocking an excessive burden on their religious freedom. The group sued the city asking for a symbolic $1 and a favorable court opinion. White Hall Mayor Noel Foster maintains the Witnesses solicit money and the city merely enforced peddler codes similar to other cities requiring background checks. Governor Asa Hutchinson signed a revised Religious Freedom Act in the late fall. The act limits who can claim substantial burdens on the free exercise of religion. At that time the Arkansas ACLU wanted to see “the shield of religious freedom not become a sword to do harm to others in the State of Arkansas.” Arkansas ACLU Executive Director Rita Sklar weighed the balance between a right to privacy and freedom of religion in regard to the Jehovah Witnesses in White Hall. In the January 20 edition of the Arkansas Gazette, Sklar said, “I would agree with them. We do not have a right not to be spoken to. You don’t have to answer the door. The right of anyone , from politicians to broom salesman, to knock on the door is a time-honored American tradition.” According to the Gazette, “Court documents indicate that the door to door evangelists often ask for money, putting them into the category of solicitors.” The peddling and soliciting codes provide even more ambiguity. Door knocking without an appointment to solicit is a misdemeanor nuisance. In the next paragraph Chapter 6.48 Charitable organizations designated by the mayor and city council and business with a privilege license are exempt. Most churches are 501(C)3 groups which many people simply think of as charity. Larry Page leads the Arkansas Baptist Faith and Ethics Council said he didn’t know specifics in the case centered in White Hall but it will come down to a balancing act between the rights of privacy and the free exercise of religion. “Fundamental rights are not absolute,” said Page. “On just the rudimentary facts it looks like it is impermissible infringements on religious liberty and freedom of speech. The law can be so subjective when it comes to competing rights. People also have the right to peace in their own home. It is hard to say how a court will come down on this.”

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