Today the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri filed a lawsuit challenging the House of Worship Protection Act, which goes into effect on Aug. 28. According to the law, a person commits the crime of disrupting a house of worship if such person disturbs or disquiets a house of worship by using profane discourse, or rude or indecent behavior. Asserting that this infringes on free speech rights, the ACLU-EM is representing members of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) and Voice of the Faithful of Kansas City, whose peaceful protest activities would be illegal under the law.
All of the plaintiffs have been on sidewalks outside churches supporting victims of sexual abuse and calling for reform within the Catholic Church. Their peaceful conduct has included leafleting, holding signs and speaking out. “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,” said Brenda L. Jones, executive director of the ACLU-EM. “Law enforcement officers will also have trouble determining exactly what constitutes profane discourse or rude behavior.”
Referring to the recent incident of members of the Russian punk band, Pussy Riot, receiving severe sentences for their political protest inside a Russian Orthodox Church, ACLU-EM legal director Tony Rothert points out that In Missouri, Pussy Riot wouldn’t have to set one foot inside a church to land in jail because the House of Worship Protection Act makes it a criminal act simply to protest on a sidewalk near a church. Rothert said, “It’s almost like Missouri legislators are asking themselves, ‘What would Putin do?’ and then taking it one step further. They seem to have forgotten that the USA has the first amendment.”
The ACLU-EM is a non-partisan, not-for-profit membership organization dedicated to the preservation and promotion of civil liberties in eastern Missouri. Located in St. Louis, the ACLU-EM is an affiliate of the national ACLU.