A federal judge in Jefferson City has rejected a request to stop Missouri from enforcing a new state law that makes it a crime to disturb a worship service, and some Hannibal ministers agree with his decision.
Opponents vowed on Tuesday, Oct. 2, to press on with their efforts to overturn it and said they are confident they’ll eventually succeed.
Missouri’s worship law, which took effect in August, makes it a misdemeanor to intentionally disturb or interrupt a “house of worship” with profane language, rude or indecent behavior or noise that breaks the solemnity of the service. First-time offenders face up to six months in jail and a $500 fine, and repeat offenders face escalating penalties, culminating in up to four years in prison.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which is suing to overturn the law on behalf of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, another group and two individuals, sought a preliminary injunction from the U.S. District Court in St. Louis that would bar enforcement of the law pending the outcome of the lawsuit.
Senior Judge E. Richard Webber rejected the request in a 16-page ruling issued last week. He found that the plaintiffs didn’t sufficiently show they were likely to win, and he said the hardship caused by blocking the law would exceed that of allowing it to stand.
“I feel no one should ever disturb a service,” said the Rev. J. Welsey Foster, 29-year pastor of Eighth and Center Streets Baptist Church. “You should never have somebody break the law and disturb a service when you are worshipping God.
“Every church has its own rules,” Foster said. “This is a free country and you can worship God in your own way, but there should be nothing to hinder a worship service.”
The Rev. Mark Albee, who has served as pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church for the past nine years, said “I am supportive of the law of restricting interfering in a worship service.
“Outside of the building they can protest, demonstrate, speak their mind and have banners or posters,” Albee added. “That is part of our freedom of speech that we all cherish. But I am in favor of having the law that would make it unlawful to disturb a worship service in the confines of a building.”
Dr. Steve Adkison, pastor of First Presbyterian Church for four years, also is in agreement with Judge Webber’s ruling. “I believe that worship should be protected,” he said.
“Without the law, anybody could come in and be disruptive,” Adkison said. “People should be able to worship freely without fear of somebody interrupting.
Page 2 of 2 - “I don’t think any worship should be disturbed. Our Constitution protects freedom of religion and it makes sense that the worship in that religion should be protected also.”
Some information in this article was reported by the Associated Press.