Disrupting worship service in MO could mean jail time

Published: Sep. 23, 2012 at 9:39 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 24, 2012 at 1:45 AM CDT
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SENATH, MO (KAIT) – A person who intentionally disrupts a house of worship in Missouri could face jail time, according to a newly enacted Missouri law.

Senate Bill No. 755, or the House of Worship Protection Act took effect August 28.

According to the act, "a person commits the crime of disturbing a house of worship if such person intentionally  and unreasonably disturbs a building used for religious purposes by using profanity, rude or indecent behavior, or making noise.  A person commits the crime if they engage in such behavior within the house of worship or so close to the building that the services are disturbed."

Senath resident Justin Casey believes the Protection Act is necessary.

"There's a lot of people that come and disrupt church because some people don't agree with it," he said. "You don't want them to go into your house and disrupt what you got to do and law protects that so why not protect church like that."

The phrase "house of worship" includes "any church, synagogue, mosque, other building or structure, or public or private place used for religious worship, religious instruction, or other religious purpose."

The law also makes it a crime to intentionally injure, intimidate, or interfere with "any person exercising the right to religious freedom or who is seeking access to a house of worship."

Senath First Assembly of God pastor Chuck Clark supports the new law because he said it more clearly defines Americans' right to freedom of speech under the First Amendment.

"I'm in complete favor of this," he said. "I'm glad we've enacted this because to me it supports and upholds the Constitution instead of erodes (it)."

Pastor Clark believes the new law also defines what free speech is not, citing as an example the military funeral protests by members of Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church.

"I do believe this is going to stop churches like Westboro," he said. "I think it's going to stop squirrels like that from giving the churches a bad name."

On August 22, 2012, six days before the act took effect, the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri filed a lawsuit challenging the House of Worship Protection Act , according to the ACLU-EM web site.

The ACLU filed the suit on behalf of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), and Voice of the Faithful of Kansas City.

SNAP and Voice of the Faithful members believe their protests outside Catholic churches in support of sexual abuse victims could be deemed illegal under the House of Worship Protection Act.

According to the ACLU-EM web site, the groups' protests consist of "leafleting, holding signs and speaking out." ACLU-EM Executive Director Brenda L. Jones said, "The House of Worship Protection Act is so vague that our plaintiffs don't know if their actions will now be considered disruptive under it," and, "Law enforcement officers will also have trouble determining exactly what constitutes profane discourse or rude behavior."

U.S. District Judge E. Richard Webber heard the case September 11.

Judge Webber has not yet issued a ruling.

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