NRS 201.270 makes it a Nevada misdemeanor to willfully disturb a religious meeting, carrying up to six months in jail and/or up to $1,000 in fines. It does not matter whether the meeting occurred in a traditional place of worship like a church or in any other public or private space.
In this article, our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys discuss:
- 1. Is it illegal to disrupt a religious service?
- 2. What are the penalties for disturbing a religious service in Nevada?
- 3. How do I fight NRS 201.270 charges?
- 4. Can you stop someone from entering a church?
- 5. Can the charges get sealed?
1. Is it illegal to disrupt a religious service?
Yes. Nevada law makes it a misdemeanor crime to willfully disturb or interrupt a religions congregation by either:
- Noisy, rude or indecent behavior, profane discourse, either within the place where such meeting is held, or so near it as to disturb the order and solemnity of the meeting; or
- Exhibiting shows or plays, or promoting any racing of animals, or gaming of any description, or engaging in any boisterous or noisy amusement; or
- Disturbing free passage along a highway within one mile of the meeting, or by maliciously cutting or otherwise injuring or disturbing a conveyance or other property belonging to anyone attending the meeting; or
- Menacing, threatening or assaulting any person at the meeting.
In short, state law outlaws any behavior that interferes with, distracts from or thwarts access to religious worship.
Note that the service does not have to be held in a synagogue, mosque or chapel such as the Central Christian Church of Las Vegas for this law to apply. The service can be in any public or private space where people have congregated for worship.1
Depending on the nature of the disturbance, defendants may face additional charges such as for:
- breaching the peace (NRS 203.010)
- reckless endangerment (NRS 202.595)
- trespass (NRS 207.200)
- harassment (NRS 200.571)
- vandalism / malicious mischief (NRS 206.310)
2. What are the penalties for disturbing a religious service in Nevada?
Disturbing religious meetings is a misdemeanor in Nevada, punishable by up to 6 months in jail, and/or up to $1,000 in fines.2
For a first offense of disturbing a religious meeting, it is rare for a Nevada judge to impose incarceration. And a D.A. may be willing to dismiss the case altogether if the defendant pays a fine, does community service and takes an Impulse Control Counseling class.
3. How do I fight NRS 201.270 charges?
Four potential defenses to Nevada charges of disturbing a religious meeting include:
- No intent to disturb: A person is guilty of disrupting a religious service only if he/she acted willfully. Unless prosecutors can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant’s actions were intentional, then criminal charges should not stand.
- False allegations: Sometimes good people are wrongly accused by others out of jealousy, anger, fear or a misunderstanding. If a defense attorney can introduce evidence of eyewitness testimony or video surveillance suggesting that the defendant behaved lawfully, the D.A. may choose to throw out the case for lack of proof.
- No religious meeting: Perhaps law enforcement was mistaken about the meeting being religious in nature. Perhaps it was a public meeting on purely civic matters, and the peace officers did not realize this. But depending on the nature of the disturbance, the defendant might still face charges for disorderly conduct for disturbing a non-religious meeting.
- Freedom of speech: In some cases, disturbing a religious meeting may be protected by the First Amendment and the Nevada Supreme Court’s interpretation of freedom of speech and expression.
4. Can you stop someone from entering a church?
Yes. Even though churches and other places of worship are generally considered public places, they are private property. Therefore, they can restrict who is allowed to enter.
5. Can the charges get sealed?
Yes. A Nevada conviction for disturbing a religious meeting can be sealed from the defendant’s criminal record one year after the case ends. And if the charge gets dismissed, then the defendant can pursue a record seal immediately.3
- Nevada Revised Statute 201.270 (listed under Nev.’s Chapter 201: Crimes Against Public Decency and Good Morals).
- NRS 179.245; NRS 179.255.