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PROTECTION OF CHURCHES AND WORSHIP FROM DISTURBANCES

Outline:

A. General Principles

B. California Law:

1. Penal Code 302

2. Case Law

A. GENERAL PRINCIPLES

American Civil Church Law by Carl Zollmann:

“Religious freedom is the crown jewel in the rich diadem of American liberties.  The federal and state constitutions protect the American citizen from any interference with his rights of consciousness on the part of the federal or state governments respectively.  Under this protection he may entertain any opinion whatsoever as to his relation with his God, provided he does not allow his views to break out into vicious and unlawful action.  Subject to this one necessary restraint, he may think, reason and argue as he pleases, and may belong to any church or to none at all without let or hindrance on the part of the government.  In the great battle of thought and action between the various denominations, both the Nation and the States maintain a strict and absolute neutrality.

This neutrality, however, does not spell indifference…Both the State and United States governments…neutrality is therefore a friendly neutrality toward all the contending forces.  No difficulties are thrown in the way of any of them.  None are tolerated, none established, but all are protected…

….[P]erhaps the most striking illustration of this friendly attitude is enforced by the laws against disturbing religious meetings…Without such security the important provisions in the constitutions which guarantee the free enjoyment of religious principles and worship to every person would become nugatory [citations omitted]. Without freedom to assemble and worship God according to the dictates of one’s own conscience religious liberty would be but a shadow without a substance…While, therefore, no one is compelled to attend, or come near to, any church meeting, if he does attend or come near it, it becomes his duty to conduct himself with decorum and respect [citations omitted].  If he refuses to do so it becomes incumbent on the state to punish him, since his acts do not only disturb a lawful meeting but tend to destroy the public morals and excite the breach of peace… [citations omitted]” American Civil Church Law, p. 285-286.

B. CALIFORNIA LAW

1. Penal Code Section 302

“(a) Every person who intentionally disturbs or disquiets any assemblage of people met for religious worship at a tax-exempt place of worship, by profane discourse, rude or indecent behavior, or by any unnecessary noise, either within the place where the meeting is held, or so near it as to disturb the order and solemnity of the meeting, is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by imprisonment in a county jail for a period not exceeding one year, or by both that fine and imprisonment.
*        *        *”

California Penal Code 302

2. Case Law

People v. Cruz (1972) 25 Cal. App. 3d Supp. 1:

In consolidated cases, the appellant defendants were convicted of willful disturbance of a religious assemblage due to their rude behavior and unnecessary noise, a violation of California Penal Code 302 and other related crimes. On appeal, the appeals court upheld the convictions and held that, under the facts of these cases, Section 302 was not unconstitutionally vague or overbroad.

Church of Christ in Hollywood v. Superior Court (2002) 99 Cal. App. 4th 1244: 

The California appellate court directed trial court to issue a restraining order against disgruntled former church member whose membership was terminated because of the way in which she harassed church leadership and members on the church premises.  Quoting Penal Code Section 302, the appellate court held that the former member’s “right of free speech does not trump the Church's right to prohibit her disruptive conduct on its property.” 

" …certain forms of conduct mixed with speech may be regulated or prohibited. The most classic of these was pointed out long ago by Mr. Justice Holmes: ''The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic.' . . . A man may be punished for encouraging the commission of a crime, . . . or for uttering 'fighting words,' . . . . These authorities make it clear . . . that 'it has never been deemed an abridgment of freedom of speech or press to make a course of conduct illegal merely because the conduct was in part initiated, evidenced, or carried out by means of language, either spoken, written, or printed.' . . . "

Further "[a]lthough . . . the courts properly have shown a special solicitude for the guarantees of the First Amendment, [the United States Supreme Court] has never held that a trespasser or an uninvited guest may exercise general rights of free speech on property privately owned . . . ." (Lloyd Corp. v. Tanner (1972) 407 U.S. 551, 567-568...)

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