302 PC – Disturbing a Religious Meeting in California

Updated

302 PC is the California Penal Code section that makes it a crime for a person intentionally to disturb or disrupt a religious meeting by way of profanity, misbehavior or unnecessary noise. The offense is charged as a misdemeanor. It is punishable by up to one year in jail.

PC 302 states that "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.”

Examples

  • heckling a pastor during a religious service.
  • yelling rude comments at people on their way into mass.
  • making obscene gestures to those present at a church service.

Defenses

A defendant can challenge a charge under this statute with a legal defense. Common defenses include:

  • no intent to disrupt,
  • no religious worship, and/or
  • necessity.

Penalties

A violation of this statute is a misdemeanor. This is opposed to a felony or an infraction.

The offense is punishable by:

  • imprisonment in county jail for up to one year, and/or
  • a maximum fine of $1,000.

A judge may award misdemeanor (or summary) probation in lieu of jail time.

Our California criminal defense attorneys will highlight the following in this article:

religious services, a disruption of which could lead to a 302 PC charge
Penal Code 302 PC is the statute that makes it a crime for a person to disturb or disrupt a religious meeting in California

1. When is disturbing a religious meeting a crime?

A prosecutor must prove the following to convict a person under PC 302:

  1. the defendant disturbed an assemblage of people for religious worship at a tax-exempt place of worship,
  2. the defendant accomplished this with profane discourse, rude or indecent behavior, or by unnecessary noise, and
  3. the accused intentionally disturbed the religious meeting.1

Note that a person can violate this statute by:

  • making a disturbance inside the place where a religious meeting is taking place, or
  • making a disturbance outside the place.

If outside, the disturbance has to be near enough to affect the order and solemnity of the meeting.2

Example: Kelly leaves a church after having a disagreement with the church's minister. During some Sunday services, Lisa enters the church and yells rude comments at the minister.

Here, Kelly is guilty of disturbing a religious meeting. She intentionally engaged in rude behavior during an assembly of religious worship. She would also be guilty if she yelled her comments outside of the church, provided she was still near enough that those inside could hear.

2. Are there legal defenses?

A defendant can beat an accusation of disturbing a religious meeting with a legal defense.

Three common defenses are:

  1. no intent,
  2. no religious worship, and/or
  3. necessity.

2.1. No intent

Recall that a person is only guilty under these laws if he:

  • intentionally,
  • disturbed a religious meeting.

This means it is always a defense for an accused to show that he did not act with intent. Perhaps, for example, he disrupted a meeting by accident.

2.2. No religious worship

This statute only applies to disturbances at places of religious worship. Therefore, a defendant can defend a charge by saying that:

  • while he may have disrupted a gathering,
  • it was not being held for religious purposes.

Note, though, that the defendant might be guilty of disturbing a public meeting.

2.3. Necessity

A necessity defense is when a defendant:

  • tries to avoid guilt,
  • by showing that he had a good reason to commit the crime.

People sometimes refer to this defense as “guilty with an explanation.”

In the context of PC 302, an accused could attempt to show that he:

  • committed the crime since,
  • he had no other choice (e.g., because of an emergency).
man being arrested for disrupting a religious meeting
A violation of this law can result in a fine and/or jail time

3. What are the penalties?

A violation of this statute is a misdemeanor.

The offense is punishable by:

  • imprisonment in county jail for up to one year, and/or
  • a maximum fine of $1,000.3

4. Can a 302 PC conviction be expunged?

A person can get a conviction under these laws expunged.

This is true provided that the defendant:

  • completed his jail term, or
  • completed probation (whichever one is imposed).

An expungement is a good thing since it removes many of the hardships associated with a conviction.

5. Are there related offenses?

There are three crimes related to disturbing a religious meeting. These are:

  1. disturbing the peace – PC 415,
  2. disturbing a public meeting – PC 403, and
  3. hate crimes.

5.1. Disturbing the peace – PC 415

Penal Code 415 PC is the California statute that defines the crime of “disturbing the peace.”

A person commits this offense when he:

  • disturbs someone with loud music,
  • fights someone, or
  • uses offensive words in public.

If a disturbance involved a religious meeting, then:

  • a prosecutor would charge the offense under PC 302,
  • rather than PC 415.

5.2. Disturbing a public meeting – PC 403

Penal Code 403 PC is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to:

  • disturb,
  • any lawful public meeting or assembly.

If a meeting is a religious service, then the crime is charged under Penal Code 302.

5.3. Hate crimes

California's hate crime laws impose punishment for harming, threatening or harassing someone because of the person's

  • disability,
  • gender
  • nationality,
  • race or ethnicity,
  • sexual orientation, or
  • religion.

These laws punish someone for:

  • harming or harassing people because of their religious beliefs,
  • and not for disturbing them during a religious service.

For additional help...

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For additional guidance or to discuss your case with a criminal defense attorney, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.

For information on similar crimes in Nevada, please see our article on: “Nevada Laws for Disturbing Religious Meetings (NRS 201.270).”


Legal References:

  1. California Penal Code 302 PC. See also Church of Christ in Hollywood v. Superior Court (2002) 99 Cal.App.4th 1244.

  2. See same.

  3. See same.

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