For the past several years, a regular tactic of the anti-Catholic group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) has been to angrily accost and hassle prayerful Catholics as they attend Mass on Sunday.
While protesting various aspects of the Church's handling of the abuse scandals, SNAP members have provoked Sunday Mass goers to such an extent that judges have been forced to issue restraining orders and SNAP leaders have been subsequently arrested for violating such orders.
SNAP members in the state of Missouri have also sought to disturb and disrupt the Mass, but they have been concerned about Missouri's House of Worship Protection Act, which protects worshipers from angry disruptions such as those instigated by SNAP.
The Act labels it a crime if a person "intentionally injures, intimidates, or interferes with any person exercising the right to religious freedom or who is seeking access to a house of worship." The first two offenses are misdemeanors, and the thirds and subsequent offenses are Class D felonies.
Afraid that it may not be able to assault Missouri Mass goers, SNAP sued leaders of the State of Missouri in 2012, claiming that Missouri's law was unconstitutional and violated the group's free speech rights.
But last week Senior United States District Judge E. Richard Webber ruled that SNAP's argument was baloney and that the state has a legitimate interest in protecting the rights of its citizens to worship without fear of threats and intimidation. Judge Webber ruled that Missouri's House of Worship Protection Act is indeed constitutional, and SNAP members can expect punishment for willfully violating it. The judge dismissed SNAP's suit with prejudice, meaning the group's claims were unfounded, and SNAP is barred from filing such a suit ever again.
Sunday Mass is the pinnacle of life for many Catholics, and it is not a place for angry zealots like SNAP to bully law-abiding worshipers who only wish to practice their faith.
Catholics have a right to attend Mass without fear and intimidation by any group, no matter how strongly that group feels about its cause. Thankfully, Judge Webber's decision will now protect Catholics in the state of Missouri during the practice of their faith free from browbeating and intimidation by anti-Catholic groups like SNAP.