ACLU files lawsuit challenging Missouri ban on disturbing worship

[JURIST] The American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri (ACLU) [advocacy website] filed a lawsuit [complaint, PDF] in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri [official website] on Wednesday challenging the constitutionality of a Missouri law that makes it a crime to disturb a worship service. The ACLU contends [press release] that the law in question, the House of Worship Protection Act (HWPA) [materials] is too vague and undercuts free speech rights under the First Amendment [text]. The HWPA defines "disturbing a worship service" as "intentionally and unreasonably disturbs a building used for religious purposes by using profanity, rude or indecent behavior, or making noise." In the press release, Brenda Jones, the executive director of the ACLU of Eastern Missouri asserted that the HWPA's language is unclear and could easily confuse both law enforcement officials and ordinary citizens:

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. Law enforcement officers will also have trouble determining exactly what constitutes profane discourse or rude behavior.
The HWPA is scheduled to take effect on August 28.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Surviors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) and Voice of the Faithful [official websites], two organizations that engage in peaceful protests that the ACLU claims would be illegal under the HWPA. Both organizations have engaged in protests outside of churches that have included leafleting and holding signs. The ACLU alleges that the vague and broad language of the HWPA may prohibit these activities.

 

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