Alexandria yesterday agreed to stop enforcing its charitable solicitation statute against members of Korean evangelist Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church and other religious groups as part of an out-of-court settlement between the city and the Moon followers.
The settlement, disclosed yesterday in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, also requires the city attorney's office to recommend to the City Council at its Sept. 12 meeting that it formally repeal the 36-year-old ordinance.
When told of the agreement in court, Judge Robert R. Merhige Jr. said, smiling, "That's good because the ordinance isn't worth a tinker."
If the Unification Church members have "any problem" from the city, Merhige added, "We'll have a full hearing and I'll declare the ordinance unconstitutional."
A church spokesman in Washington, commenting on the settlement, said yesterday that there are no immediate plans for church members to bombard the Alexandria area with solicitors.
"It's not that we want to blow off the top of the city or anything like that." the spokesman said.
The settlement asked that Merhige keep the case alive until the City Council repeals the law, but Merhige said, "I don't want the City Council to think we're standing over them with a hip; they'll do the right thing."
The suit grew out of the arrest in May of five church members on charges of unlawful solicitation in Alexandria. One was convicted of a misdemeanor, charges against two other were dropped and the remaining two forfeited collateral and did not appear in court.
The church filed suit Aug. 8, claiming that the ordinance violated their First Amendment rights because it permitted Alexandria's city manager to grant solicitation permits without adopting a set of standards as required by a U.S. Supreme Court decision.
The church also claimed that its religious freedom was abridged by the law and that it improperty required the disclosure of financial and other information before a permit could be issued, according to Leonard S. Rubenstein, an attorney representing the church.
Rubenstein yesterday called the settlement a victory for the church. "We feel like it was a complete success. We got exactly what we wanted."
But Assistant City Attorney Mary Craig said the agreement was "absolutely not" a victory for the church. The city had been redrafting its charitable solicitation ordinance for several weeks before the suit was filed in light of a new state law effective last July 1, Craig said.
The state law exempts religious organizations from applying for charitable solicitation permits.
Craig said she probably will have a new ordinance to present to the City Council next month.
A Unification Church spokesman in Washington said yesterday that the Alexandria suit was one of a number of attempts by the church across the nation to overturn laws unfavorable to them.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which prepared the church's suit. said that the church has conducted fund-raising peacefully in the city since early 1973.
Craig yesterday said one church member applied for a permit this year, but that his permit is still peading because he did not furnish all of the required information.
Eleven charity groups, including three religions organizations, have been granted solicitation permits this year and none has been denied, according to the Alexandria city manager's office.
The Moon followers sell flowers, peanuts and candy to raise money for the church and Lecture and conduct choirs and other programs as part of their evangelical effort.