Court refuses to enjoin enforcement of Missouri’s House of Worship Protection Act

Howard Friedman, Religion Clause

In Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests v. Joyce,  (ED MO, Sept. 28, 2012), a Missouri federal district court refused to issue a preliminary injunction to prevent enforcement of Missouri’s House of Worship Protection Act against a group representing clergy sex abuse victims.  SNAP, which engages in peaceful picketing and leafleting outside of churches, claims the recently effective law infringes their free speech rights and is unconstitutionally vague. The court, however, held that plaintiffs failed to show a likelihood of success on the merits of their claims. It concluded that the statute is a content-neutral time, place and manner regulation:

Plaintiffs here, as peaceful demonstrators, face relatively minimal restriction on their activities.  They may freely walk on the public areas adjacent to houses of worship, carry signs and banners, and distribute leaflets communicating their message before services, when services are not being held, and Plaintiffs may do so even during worship services, as long the manner in 

The court also rejected plaintiffs’ claim that both the definition of “house of worship” and the definition of the prohibited conduct are overly broad and vague:

What the statute prohibits is willful behavior intended to interfere with the successful conduct of a worship service. The probability that a reasonable person would not understand any of the common terms used to describe the prohibited behavior is quite remote.