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City of Elizabeth v. Sullivan

Decided: March 12, 1968.

CITY OF ELIZABETH, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
REV. ELMER L. SULLIVAN, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



Triarsi, J.d.c. (temporarily assigned).

Triarsi

The defendant herein appeals from a conviction in the Elizabeth Municipal Court wherein he was charged with distributing a leaflet without first having obtained a permit in contravention of a city ordinance.

From the stipulated evidence it is factually determined that on the morning of December 22, 1967 the defendant, Rev. Elmer L. Sullivan, Rector of St. Augustine's Episcopal Church in Elizabeth, appeared in Scott Park, situate a short

"stone's throw" from Thomas Jefferson High School, and distributed to a high school student a controversial social and political yellow leaflet entitled "ARE YOU ONE OF THE THOUSANDS OF YOUNG PEOPLE IN THE UNITED STATES DEEPLY CONCERNED OVER THE ROLE OF THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT AND ITS ARMED FORCES IN VIETNAM?" It advises our youth that if they believe that the Vietnam war is "right" they need not wait to be drafted, they could volunteer; but, if they are of the opinion that the war is "wrong" there are avenues of learning available wherein they could be enlightened as to whether or not they are entitled to a Conscientious Objector classification resulting from their beliefs by the Selective Service Boards. Succinctly and unquestionably, the leaflet involves one of the most controversial and burning issues of our time; the public interest therein is at a maximum or apogee. The act of distribution was performed in the presence of the License Inspector and a policeman of the City of Elizabeth who, as a result of prior notice, attended to effect the service of a summons and the arrest of Rev. Sullivan. It must be noted that the inspector and police did not read the leaflet before the service of summons and arrest was completed and that they acted without any knowledge of the contents of the leaflet.

It must also be noted that the Rev. Sullivan failed to file an application for a permit and had not been issued a permit for distribution of the leaflet as required by the ordinance on or before December 22, 1967. He was subsequently convicted and fined $10. for the offense.

The Court on this appeal is presented with one pivotal issue, to wit: Whether the pertinent Elizabeth City Ordinance is violative of defendant's constitutional rights of freedom of speech and freedom of press.

The City Ordinance under discussion, Ordinance No. 18 as amended by Ordinance No. 70, November 28, 1962, provides in pertinent part:

"SECTION 1. No person, except as in this ordinance provided, shall canvass, solicit, distribute circulars or other matter or call from house to house, in the City of Elizabeth without first having reported to and received a written permit from the License Inspector, Central Licensing Bureau, Division of Revenue, Department of Finance.

SECTION 3. This ordinance shall not apply to anyone who solicits any votes or support for a bona fide political candidate running for public office.

SECTION 4. The License Inspector shall have power to grant permits to canvass, which permits shall specify the number of hours or days the permit will be in effect, and such inspector shall refuse to issue a permit in all cases where the application of the canvasser or further investigation to be made at the discretion of such inspector, shows that the canvasser is not of good character or that he is canvassing for a project not free from fraud * * *.

SECTION 5. Before the permit may be issued the canvasser shall make an application to canvass, giving his or her full name and address, age, height, weight, place of birth, whether married or single, length and place of residence, whether or not previously arrested or convicted of crime, by whom employed, address of employer, and a description of the project for which ...


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