Banning Unsolicited Newspapers in Biddeford, Maine, Raises Serious First Amendment Concerns

Justin Silverman | 774.244.2365 |


The New England First Amendment Coalition urged officials in Biddeford, Maine, today to rescind or change a new ordinance that would restrict the delivery of unsolicited newspapers to residences, as well as limit the distribution of print materials in public spaces.

“Our chief concern is that the ordinance calls for information regulation and restriction in ways that are impermissible under the First Amendment,” wrote Nashwa Gewaily, NEFAC’s media and First Amendment attorney, in an Oct. 16 letter. “Courts have consistently struck down as violative of free speech and free press rights similar rules enacted by cities and towns across the country.”

Ordinance 2017.103 prohibits the delivery of unsolicited print or written materials to private residences and public ways. The ordinance imposes fines of up to $2500 for a single violation and implements a licensing system for publishers. According to the ordinance, the new law is intended to protect the privacy of residents and prevent littering.

NEFAC explained that the ordinance will instead unreasonably restrict the rights of residents:

Biddeford, like all cities, has a valid interest in preventing litter and protecting its aesthetics. However, as an Illinois court stated in a decision invalidating an anti-littering, press-implicating rule: “Tossing a newspaper onto a private yard is different than tossing a discarded hamburger wrapper onto that yard.” Biddeford does a disservice to newspapers, donor-supported charities, and community organizations in equating all freely delivered printed or written material with unsightly debris that ought to be promptly discarded.

Earlier this year, NEFAC opposed a similar ordinance in Providence, R.I., that banned the unsolicited delivery of “items, packages or promotional materials by a for-profit entity” to a home and left outdoors. That ordinance singled out for-profit newspapers and similar communications while reserving the right to leave literature to other interests, NEFAC argued.

“The unsolicited distribution of literature or pamphleteering is deeply rooted in this country’s history,” NEFAC and fellow advocates testified in January. “It promotes an informed citizenry, encourages political discourse and is perhaps the most effective and cost-efficient way for people to communicate with other residents.”

NEFAC was formed in 2006 to advance and protect the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment, including the principle of the public’s right to know. We’re a broad-based organization of people who believe in the power of an informed democratic society. Our members include lawyers, journalists, historians, academics and private citizens.

Our coalition is funded through contributions made by those who value the First Amendment and who strive to keep government accountable. Please make a donation here.

Major Supporters of NEFAC for this year include the Barr Foundation, The Providence Journal Charitable Legacy Fund, The Robertson Foundation, Lois Howe McClure, The Boston Globe and Boston University. Celebration Supporters include The Hartford Courant and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.