Tuesday, March 10, 2015

8th Circuit Invalidates Missouri House of Worship Protection Act

In Survivors Network of Those Abused By Priests, Inc. v. Joyce,  (8th Cir., March 9, 2015), the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals held that Missouri's House of Worship Protection Act violates the 1st Amendment's free speech protections.  The statute, which prohibits "using profane discourse, rude or indecent behavior, or making noise either within the house of worship or so near it as to disturb the order and solemnity of the worship services," was challenged by groups and individuals who picket Catholic Churches over clergy sexual abuse and other issues.  The court concluded that the statute is a content-based restriction on speech and is thus subject to strict scrutiny.  The court added:
The broad sweep of the Worship Protection Act's ban ... can prevent significant messages from being publicly expressed, solely because they are offensive or disagreeable to some. Such risks are heightened near the places regulated by the Act—churches and buildings used for religious purposes. These locations are the most likely places for appellants to find their intended audience, including individuals who have personally been affected or victimized by instances of clerical sexual abuse and church employees with knowledge or information about abusive acts.
Kansas City Star reports on the decision.