Personal Injuries on Church Property or During Church Activities

An Oregon court affirmed the criminal conviction of a man for “stalking” a woman on church property.

Key point 7-17. Churches do not have to tolerate persons who disrupt religious services. Church leaders can ask a court to issue an order barring the disruptive person from the church's premises. If the person violates the order, he or she may be removed from church premises by the police, and may be found to be in contempt of court. Removing Disruptive Individuals

An Oregon court affirmed the criminal conviction of a man for "stalking" a woman on church property. Many pastors and lay church leaders have been confronted with the problem of stalkers attending church services. In many cases the stalker is a former spouse or a jilted boyfriend. A recent case illustrates the impact such incidents can have on a church. A man ("Bob") met a woman ("Lydia") while she was working at a store. Bob visited the store often, and began asking Lydia to "go out" with him. Lydia always rebuffed his advances, but Bob persisted in asking her for dates. On one occasion he told her that "God has told me that you are going to marry me." Bob became increasingly "impatient" and "agitated" and screamed at Lydia because she refused to go out with him. Lydia was alarmed and frightened by this behavior, and she went to the police and filed a "stalking complaint." Oregon law specifies that a person commits the crime of stalking by repeated and unwanted contact with another person that causes reasonable apprehension regarding the personal safety of the victim or a member of the victim's immediate family or household. After a hearing, a court issued a stalking protective order prohibiting Bob from "knowingly having contact" with Lydia. "Contact" is defined by state law to include following the other person; waiting outside the home, property, place of work, or school of the other person or of a member of that person's family or household; sending or making written communications in any form to the other person; speaking with the other person by any means; communicating with the other person through a third person; committing a crime against the other person; communicating with a third person who has some relationship to the other person with the intent of affecting the third person's relationship with the other person; or delivering directly or through a third person any object to the home, property, place of work, or school of the other person.

Shortly after this protective order was issued, Bob showed up at a worship service at the church that Lydia attended. The pastor saw Bob enter the sanctuary during the service and sit down. The pastor was alarmed because he was aware of Bob's previous conduct and considered him to be "unpredictable." The pastor had never seen Bob attend services before that date. Lydia was seated near the front of the sanctuary and did not know that Bob was in the building until the pastor informed her after the service. Bob stayed for about 10 minutes after the service had ended and then left. After the service, the pastor found a handwritten note on the church bulletin board. The note stated, among other things, that "the resurrected Christ was Here!" It also asked: "Are there any Real Believers here? How about you pastor?"

A few days later Bob showed up at Lydia's place of employment. Her supervisor was working alone that day, and was familiar with Bob's behavior and the protective order. As Bob approached the door of the building, the supervisor picked up a knife and told Bob not to come any closer. When the supervisor urged Bob to seek psychological help, Bob replied by exclaiming that "I am the risen Jesus Christ, the Messiah" and that "I have come to offer you salvation for your sins." These statements further frightened the supervisor. Bob left soon after making these statements, and the supervisor called the police. Bob was immediately arrested and charged with violations of the protective order at Lydia's church and place of employment. He was convicted and sentenced to prison.

Application. Pastors and lay church leaders should be familiar with stalking legislation in their state. Many states have enacted stalking laws similar to Oregon's, and such laws can provide effective protection against intimidating behavior (active or passive) on church property, as this case illustrates. State v. Maxwell, 998 P.2d 680 (Ore. App. 2000).

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