As we mentioned a few weeks back, a person who intentionally disrupts a house of worship in Missouri could face jail time, according to a recently enacted Missouri law. Senate Bill No. 755, or the House of Worship Protection Act, went into effect on August 28, 2012.
According to the law:
"... 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."
The phrase "house of worship" is meant to be a catchall and 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. This means harassing or obstructing those seeking to enter into a house of worship will also be a criminal act.
Opinions across the state have been divided over the necessity of such a law with some saying it will prevent disrespectful displays from interrupting innocent churchgoers. Others, including the American Civil Liberties Union, disagree, challenging the legality of the act. At the end of August the ACLU filed a lawsuit specifically challenging the House of Worship Protection Act.
The suit was filed on behalf of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), and Voice of the Faithful of Kansas City. SNAP and Voice of the Faithful believe their protests outside Catholic churches in support of sexual abuse victims could be deemed illegal under the House of Worship Protection Act and used as a way to stomp out their First Amendment rights.
The ACLU says that the House of Worship Protection Act is so vague that many groups do not know if their actions will qualify as "disruptive." This worry has a chilling effect on free speech and should not be allowed, according to the ACLU. Even more problematic is that officers will have the discretion to decide what exactly constitutes rude or profane public behavior. A ruling on the case has yet to be issued and, in the meantime, the law remains in effect.
If you've had a run in with the law and find yourself in need of a St. Louis criminal defense lawyer capable of fighting for your freedom, don't hesitate to contact our St. Louis criminal law firm today at (314) 863-0500.
Source: "Disrupting worship service in MO could mean jail time," published at KFVS12.com.