Crime

Appeals court throws out Missouri law banning noisy protests at houses of worship

A Missouri law prohibiting “profane,” “rude” and “indecent” protests outside churches, synagogues and mosques is unconstitutional, a federal appeals court ruled Monday.

Ruling in favor of organizations and individuals who have protested outside Catholic churches and facilities, a three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that the Missouri House of Worship Protection Act violates the First Amendment because it seeks to restrict the content of the protesters’ speech.

The act, passed in 2012, prohibited intentionally disturbing a “house of worship by using profane discourse, rude or indecent behavior … either within the house of worship or so near it as to disturb the order and solemnity of the worship services.”

Other so-called “content neutral” methods such as noise regulations can protect religious services from unreasonable disruption, the panel noted.

“Disagreement with a message, even a profane or rude message, does not permit its suppression,” the judges found.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri challenged the law for the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, Call to Action and two private citizens, all of whom had called for changes within the Catholic church.

The ruling overturned an April 2013 ruling by a St. Louis federal judge upholding the act.

To reach Mark Morris, call 816-234-4310 or send email to mmorris@kcstar.com.

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