There are a number of laws related to the right of public assembly and the protection of meetings from disruption by individuals or groups. Many of those laws have a direct bearing on what can happen to anyone who is accused of disturbing or disrupting a religious meeting. Before thinking that such an action would result in nothing more than a fine and a slap on the wrist, it pays to seek legal counsel and learn more about the ramifications of this type of accusation.
What Type of Settings Are Considered Protected Under Current Laws?
Current laws require that certain events must come to pass before there are grounds to take legal action. The location of the meeting is a factor that is taken into account. Meetings taking place in structures owned by religious organizations are considered to occur in facilities operated by non-profit groups. That means choosing to enter a church, synagogue, mosque, or any other house of worship for the purpose of disrupting the meeting is considered grounds for leveling charges.
Keep in mind that there are some protections that come into play when the religious meeting is taking place in a rented facility. This means that if a local religious group has rented an empty storefront for the purpose of conducting meetings on a regular basis, they are protected under the same laws that apply to groups that own property.
What Constitutes the Disruption or Disturbance of a Religious Meeting?
While the laws will vary slightly from one jurisdiction to the next, there are a few actions that tend to be universally considered disruptions of religious meetings. One has to do with entering the area where the group is meeting and beginning and shouting obscenities or using profane language as a way to bring the meeting to a halt. If the individual does not cease and desist when ordered to do so, there is a good chance that calling the local authorities will be the next step.
Entering a religious meeting and brandishing a weapon is also considered a disturbance. Doing so presents a real and present danger to everyone present, including any children who are in the worship space.
Choosing to enter the meeting with the intent of disrupting the meeting to protest the actions, beliefs, or public stances of that group is also considered disruption under current laws. This would include individuals who hold a more fundamentalist view of religious matters entering a progressive house of worship and attempting to take over the meeting by making claims of condemnation and ordering the meeting attendees to repent and abandon their beliefs.
What are the Possible Punishments for Disrupting Such a Meeting?
Many instances of disrupting a religious meeting would be considered a misdemeanor. This is particularly true when no type of weapon is utilized, and there is no physical harm to any of the individuals attending the meeting. A judge is likely to impose some type of fine and may require the individuals who conducted the disruption to perform a minimum number of hours of community service.
If the individual participating in the disruption has a prior record, the consequences may be more severe. Along with community service and fines, there is the possibility of spending time behind bars. Should anyone be injured as the result of the disruption, the penalties imposed by the court may be more severe.
Before assuming that the incident is protected under the laws governing free speech, it pays to seek counsel from an attorney. Depending on the setting and what actually occurred, the individual who chose to enter the meeting may not be subject to the more severe penalties.