Bill sent to Gov. Nixon would criminalize disturbance of worship services in Mo. | St. Louis Public Radio

Bill sent to Gov. Nixon would criminalize disturbance of worship services in Mo.

May 29, 2012

Among the 115 bills sent to Governor Jay Nixon (D) this year is one that would make it a crime to deliberately disturb worship services in Missouri.

The measure would make it a misdemeanor to use, “profane discourse, rude or indecent behavior,” or make loud disruptive noises within or just outside a public or private building where a worship service is being held.  It was sponsored by Senate President Pro-tem Rob Mayer (R, Dexter).

“It’s important for citizens here in Missouri to have their First Amendment rights protected," Mayer said.  "There (have) been instances across the country where there have been actual disturbances in churches and synagogues.”

Mayer admits he’s not aware of any such disturbances having happened yet in Missouri.

The American Civil Liberties Union, however, wants Governor Nixon to veto the bill.  Tony Rothert is Legal Director for the ACLU of Eastern Missouri.

“It uses terms that are very, very vague that will give police a large amount of discretion to arbitrarily enforce the law against protestors or picketers," Rothert said.

The bill would also make it a crime to physically threaten anyone attending or attempting to attend a worship service.  Rothert says they have no problem with that portion of the bill, just the part that addresses disruptive speech or noise.  He also says they may consider legal action if the governor signs the bill into law.

First and second offenses would be misdemeanors punishable by fines or jail time of no more than a year, while a third offense would be a Class D felony, punishable by up to four years in prison.