Louisiana Residents' Constitutional Right to Trick-or-Treat Is Under Threat

The ACLU is calling on local police to stop trick-or-treating restrictions it says are illegal.

Civil-rights advocates are stepping up to protect Louisiana residents' constitutional trick-or-treating rights.

Many Louisiana communities have recommended hours during the evening for trick-or-treating, and the American Civil Liberties Union says some areas will even impose penalties on trick-or-treating outside the official window. In an open letter addressed to every sheriff in Louisiana, the organization said that placing restrictions on trick-or-treating times is illegal because it violates free-speech laws.

"No governmental body may prohibit anyone from ringing someone else's doorbell at any time for any legitimate purpose, nor may the government prohibit anyone from giving 'treats' to visitors at any time," the letter reads. "Simply put, the residents of Louisiana have the constitutional right to ring doorbells on any date and time they choose asking for treats, and all have the right to receive visitors and give them treats at any time."

The ACLU says that penalizing trick-or-treating is a violation of Americans' freedom to assemble, and even specifying trick-or-treating hours "creates a chilling effect on the right of free assembly."

In the letter, the ACLU also goes after local police who are placing signs outside of sex offenders' homes to warn kids to stay away. These signs carry messages like, "No candy at this residence," or "No trick, no treat, no candy."

While the letter does not challenge the policy of prohibiting sex offenders from interacting with trick-or-treating children, it says that the public signs are a violation of the privacy of offenders' family members who have committed no crime. The signs also run afoul of the First Amendment's protections against compelled speech, the ACLU says, because they're essentially forcing sex offenders to speak.

A better alternative, according to the ACLU, would be to simply patrol and monitor the sex offenders' homes to make sure they're following the rules on Halloween night.

A police commander in a Louisiana sheriff's office told local news that the signs are meant to protect both the public and the sex offenders themselves. "We believe that by posting the signs in the yards of known registered sex offenders, which are public records, this is a matter of public safety," he said. "It's also public safety for the sex offender themselves because we don't want anyone making false accusations against them."

Marjorie Esman, the director of ACLU Louisiana and signatory of the open letter, said she had not heard any response from the police departments that her office contacted on Thursday.

On this night, kids fortunate enough to live in areas that don't restrict Halloween-related activities can enjoy their constitutional rights whenever they like. But in other parts of the country, trick-or-treating will end at 7:00.