In Bobtown, Pennsylvania (it’s a small town in southwestern Pennsylvania, south of Pittsburgh near the border with West Virginia) the local board of supervisors has tried to ban Halloween trick-or-treating this year. According to the web site of Pittsburgh television station KDKA, the Dunkard Township supervisors voted for the ban for safety reasons and because folks had been scared by a rash of break-ins. The fire chief, who is a candidate for supervisor in the upcoming election, said he was surprised by the negative reaction.
What those supervisors have done is displayed some pretty blatant ignorance of how things work in the free world, if you ask me. Think about it for a minute. What do kids who are trick-or- treating do? They walk on streets that are open to the public and knock on the front doors of residences on those streets.
(Don’t give me any business about how some streets are private. Unless access is restricted by a gate, those streets are open to the public no matter who owns them. Besides, I doubt that there are many gated communities in Bobtown, PA.)
So how can the local government prohibit kids, or anyone, from walking on streets that are open to the public and knocking on the front doors of homes on those streets? They obviously can’t have a blanket prohibition of walking on public streets. Ban wearing costumes in public? Sounds like an infringement of my right of free expression. Ban walking down the street for the purpose of soliciting candy? Nope, can’t do that either.
Well, you say, what about when they leave the public street to cross the front yard and knock on your door? Isn’t that trespass? Just for laughs I looked up the Arizona statute on criminal trespass. Here is the part that is relevant to this discussion (it’s section 13-1504(A) if you want to look it up for yourself):
A person commits criminal trespass in the first degree by knowingly:
1. Entering or remaining unlawfully in or on a residential structure.
2. Entering or remaining unlawfully in a fenced residential yard.
3. Entering any residential yard and, without lawful authority, looking into
the residential structure thereon in reckless disregard of infringing on the inhabitant’s right of privacy.
Any of those things sound like something kids trick-or-treating would do? Well, maybe #3 if you didn’t come to the door and you left the curtains open. Otherwise, though, if you don’t want them coming across the front yard, then lock the front gate. If you don’t, then it’s not trespass when they cross your yard and knock on your door.
(Don’t give me any business about pranks the kids might pull either. Those things are already illegal. That’s not an excuse to ban trick-or- treating.)
So what we are left with is a local government that is essentially saying that on one particular day of the year, you can’t walk on the public streets and knock on doors for one particular purpose. Is that really how things work?
If you want to get all legalistic about it, I suggest you read the decision of the United States Supreme Court in the case of Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York v. Village of Stratton. In that case the Supreme Court made short work of the attempt by the Village of Stratton, Ohio (also not far from Pittsburgh, but to the east) to ban the Jehovah’s Witnesses from going door-to-door unless they got a permit. That’s a clear violation of the First Amendment, the Court said, and not just because the Jehovah’s Witnesses are delivering a religious message.
Lighten up, Bobtown PA. If you really don’t want anyone knocking on your front door, fence in your front yard and lock the gate.