Missouri House of Worship Protection Act Unconstitutional

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It was reported today (March 9th), that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled that due to speech content restrictions the Missouri House of Worship Protection Act (2012) was unconstiutional.

The Worship Protection Act draws content based distinctions on the type of expression permitted near a house of worship, forbidding profane discourse and rude or indecent behavior which would disturb the order and solemnity of worship services. The Act’s regulation of profane and rude speech runs “a substantial risk of suppressing ideas in the process.” Cohen v. California. It impermissibly requires enforcement authorities to look to the content of the speaker’s message in order to enforce the statute. The ban on “profane” speech, for example, also appears intended to protect audiences from the effect that the content of certain messages may have on them. The First Amendment guarantees that “the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.” This Missouri statute cannot survive strict scrutiny since ยง 574.035(3)(1) draws content based distinctions that are not necessary to achieve the state’s asserted interest in protecting the free exercise of religion.

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“The price of freedom of religion or of speech or of the press is that we must put up with, and even pay for, a good deal of rubbish.” – Robert H. Jackson, US Supreme Court justice (1892-1954)


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