• Key point: Many states have laws making the disruption of religious services a criminal offense.
• A New York court upheld the convictions of religious protestors who disrupted a church service. As a Catholic church was preparing to conduct a mass in honor of gay pride, a group of protestors began disrupting the service. One protestor grabbed a microphone and shouted at a priest, “You shouldn’t be here. You are not fit to be a priest. You should be ashamed of yourself. You’re not worthy to sell shoes.” Other protestors engaged in similar behavior. The protestors were charged with violating a state law that provides: “A person is guilty of aggravated disorderly conduct, who makes unreasonable noise or disturbance while at a lawfully assembled religious service or within one hundred feet thereof, with intent to cause annoyance or alarm or recklessly creating a risk thereof.” The protestors claimed that a mass is “a sacrifice of God to God on behalf of mankind,” and that a mass in honor of gay pride “would be in the name of sin and evil, therefore making the mass a sacrilege.” They argued that “all Catholics are under an obligation to prevent such a sacrilege from occurring within a church.” A court ruled that the protestors could be charged with violating the state law prohibiting disturbance of religious services, and that the law was not unconstitutional. The court concluded that the state may lawfully “protect the rights of those individuals who choose to exercise their fundamental right of freedom of religion.” It further observed that “the constitutional guarantees of the free exercise of religious opinion and of the people peaceably to assemble and petition for a redress of grievances, would be worth little if outsiders could disrupt and prevent such a meeting in disregard of the customs and rules applicable to it.” People v. Morrisey. 614 N.Y.S.2d 686 (N.Y. City Crim. Ct. 1994).
See Also: Removing Disruptive Individuals
© Copyright 1995, 1998 by Church Law & Tax Report. All rights reserved. This publication is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is provided with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. Church Law & Tax Report, PO Box 1098, Matthews, NC 28106. Reference Code: m21 m16 c0695