PA House Rep. proposes legislation criminalizing “profane discourse” near houses of worship

Rep. Ryan Aument (R-Lancaster) is sworn in as the newest representative of the 41st Legislative District - repaument.com
Rep. Ryan Aument (R-Lancaster) is sworn in as the newest representative of the 41st Legislative District. Photo care of repaument.com

Ryan Aumentmember of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and adult ministry team leader at Grace Church at Willow Valley — has issued a memorandum noting intention to “introduce legislation creating the offense of “Disrupting Proceedings of House of Worship” which criminalizes, among other things, “profane discourse” near houses of worship.

Rep. Aument’s memorandum reads as follows:

In the near future, I will introduce legislation creating the offense of Disrupting Proceedings of House of Worship. The legislation is based upon the House of Worship Protection Law enacted in Missouri.

The legislation creates a new section in Title 18 (Crimes and Offenses). It provides that a person commits a misdemeanor of the third degree (maximum penalty one year imprisonment/$2,500 fine) if the person:

Intentionally disturbs, interrupts, or disquiets a house of worship by using profane discourse, rude or indecent behavior, or by making unreasonable noise either within the house of worship or so near the house of worship so as to disturb the proceedings; or
Intentionally injures, intimidates, or interferes with a person lawfully exercising the free exercise of religion inside or outside the house of worship, whether by force, threat, or physical obstruction.

Thank you for your consideration of this proposed legislation.

What authority does the Pennsylvania House of Representatives have to criminalize “profane discourse” not only in general, but specifically outside a “house of worship?”

What might “profane discourse” constitute? Would rebuke of the Holy Spirit, using the Lord’s name in vain, exclaiming “Jesus Christ!” in an angry tone, or holding a sign with Jesus flipping the middle finger fall in the category of “profane discourse?” … a debate about the existence of God?

Would atheists or religious individuals protesting in particular areas — for whatever reasons — be charged with misdemeanor offenses, fined, and imprisoned for a year? With phrases such as “profane discourse” and “rude or indecent behavior,” law enforcement have a great deal of latitude in criminalizing behavior they may just happen to not like.

Harrisburg-area atheists protest c/o Shannon Fields
Harrisburg-area atheists protest in 2011. Photo care of Shannon Fields

Laws against disorderly conduct and similar behavior not particularly related to conduct outside houses of worship already exist. Laws too addressing injury, intimidation, threats, or interference with lawful exercise of religious practice already exist. Why the special (extra) protection surrounding houses of worship?

Persons may — for instance — protest houses of worship if they wish and are allowed this freedom through basic constitutional rights, but now Rep. Aument seeks to interfere with this freedom and criminalize “profane discourse” and “rude or indecent behavior” specifically relating to conduct outside houses of worship.

As a Pennsylvania resident, I am sick of the constant overlap of religion and government. Whether mayors consider the free speech of atheists to be “unfortunate,” city councils initiate government-led prayer at council meetings, house representatives approve/introduce “The Year of the Bible” legislation, Prayer Month legislation, The Year of Religious Diversity legislation, an attempt to remove anonymity from individuals engaging in lawsuits seeking to uphold the separation of church and state, National Fast Day legislation, or American Religious History Week legislation, Pennsylvania lawmakers continue to erode the wall separating church and state.

Oppose Rep. Aument’s prospective legislation creating the offense of “Disrupting Proceedings of House of Worship.”

Contact members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives – especially, if you are a Pennsylvania resident, your representative. Sound off on Rep. Aument’s Facebook page. Send Rep. Aument an e-mail. Write about this on your platform of choice including social network site(s), blog(s), and other venues.

Consider using the following short message as a template:

Rep. Aument of Pennsylvania’s 41st legislative district plans to introduce legislation creating the offense of “Disrupting Proceedings of House of Worship” which criminalizes “profane discourse” and “rude or indecent behavior” near “houses of worship” in Pennsylvania. This legislation provides special protections in the context of religion and is largely redundant because laws criminalizing disorderly conduct and other behaviors in Rep. Aument’s proposed legislation already exist. The legislation also abridges individuals’ rights to protest and rights pertaining to free speech and thus should be opposed.

As always, feel free to comment below.

(Thanks to Carl Silverman for the tip!)