A new religious sign-and-cart operation has been setting up along the Haines waterfront in recent weeks, stirring concerns for some residents.

A group of Jehovah’s Witnesses have sporadically set up along the waterfront a portable 24-by-15-foot placard on a 37-by-16-foot cart, which they use to distribute nonprofit religious brochures.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are a Christian denomination known for their door-to-door preaching and aggressive evangelism, a core tenet and duty of their religion.

Tour operator Joe Ordonez said he recently saw the Jehovah’s Witnesses set up at Lookout Park. “I just really thought nothing like that was allowed. It’s proselytizing,” Ordonez said.

In years past, Ordonez has seen children selling small trinkets or musicians seeking tips run off for soliciting on public property, so he wondered why the distribution of religious pamphlets was allowed.

“If you think, from the visitor experience perspective, they don’t really want people hawking tours in any loud sort of way,” Ordonez said. “It’s not like I lost any sleep over it. I’m in the visitor industry and I think about visitor experience. I’ve seen a lot of things come and go and this was a new twist.”

Interim police chief Josh Dryden said he received a complaint about Jehovah’s Witnesses distributing brochures on the waterfront during the first cruise ship day of the season. The brochures include Bible verses, questions like “How will God change our world for the better?” and a suggestion “to learn more without cost” by filling out personal information and mailing it in.

Because borough code prohibits the distribution of handbills or flyers on public property, Dryden went down to speak with the Jehovah’s Witnesses about their cart.

“I talked to them and they agreed to move their stand. And I said, ‘You can talk to the borough manager if you have any problems with it,’” Dryden said.

Interim manager Brad Ryan wrote to borough attorney Brooks Chandler to ask for his opinion on what to do, as borough code clearly prohibits “placement or distribution of handbills, flyers or bumper stickers on public property, except on public bulletin boards.”

Chandler pointed out that in order to protect the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ First Amendment rights, the code should be interpreted narrowly.

“Due to the free speech and freedom of religion issues these words (“handbill” and “flyer”) should be interpreted narrowly. So I believe if the materials are not advertising church services or a specific religious event, handing them out in person on the street is not prohibited,” Chandler wrote.

Jehovah’s Witnesses, however, would still need to obtain a sign permit for $25. A group representative received a sign permit from the borough on May 24.

“They can have their pamphlets there and hand them out as long as they are not saying, ‘Come to this building at 10:30 or give us money,’” Ryan said.

Attorney Chandler pointed out the borough would have much greater leeway to restrict people from coming into borough buildings and passing out religious materials in person.

Numerous court cases have upheld the rights of Jehovah’s Witnesses to evangelize door to door, which they have been doing in Haines.

Ted Sanders, the man who applied for the sign permit, did not respond to multiple calls for comment.