A Florida man recently pled guilty to obstructing the free exercise of religious beliefs, according to Huffington Post, in addition to a hate crime. The man allegedly left a voicemail at a local mosque saying, “I hate you Muslims, you Muslims are terrible. l hate you people. l’m gonna go down to your center, I’m gonna’ shoot all ya’ll.” For the hate crime, he faces 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000. Typically, it is very difficult to prove a hate crime because the prosecution must prove that the motive to commit the crime was based on the defendant’s desire to do harm to the victim because of their race, religion, color, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, or age. In this case, because the defendant left a message, proving the hateful intent is much easier. But what laws did he break by disrupting a religious exercise?
Disturbing School Assemblies, Religious Assemblies, and Other Assemblies
It is unlawful, under statute 871.01 to willfully interrupt or disturb a school assembly or a religious assembly for people who met to worship God or who met for any other lawful purpose. Violating this statute is a second degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine. It is a first degree felony to willfully interrupt or disturb an assembly of people who met with the purpose of paying tribute to the death of an individual at a military funeral. First degree misdemeanors carry a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Unlawful Protesting of a Funeral or Burial Within 500 Feet
It is not legal for a person to knowingly protest or cause a protest to occur within 500 feet of a residence, cemetery, funeral home, house of worship, or other location within one hour before or after a funeral or burial. Protesting includes any form of picketing or actions that have the intent of interrupting or disturbing the funeral or burial. Violating this statute (871.015) is a first degree misdemeanor.
Advertising of Religious Discrimination in Public Places
Under Florida statute 871.04, it is unlawful to publish, broadcast by any means, circularize issue, display, transmit, post, or disseminate, whether directly or indirectly, any message that advertises that the patronage of a person is not welcome because of their religion. A violation is a second degree misdemeanor, though this statute does not apply to all places, such as a private or limited membership group, or to a religious camp, gathering, meeting, or organization.
Reach Out to Us Today for Criminal Defense
There are a number of laws that protect religious freedom in Florida, and violating any of these laws can lead to time behind bars if you face the prosecution without an experienced West Palm Beach attorney. If you have been charged with a felony or misdemeanor of assault or disturbing a religious event, we urge you to reach out to the West Palm Beach criminal defense lawyers at the Skier Law Firm today.