When protesters show up at the door of your church, it may be difficult to understand that the same laws that protect your right to worship also protect those who act in opposition to your beliefs. However, courts have routinely protected the right of Americans to express their opinions in public, even if those opinions are considered offensive.
The best thing a church can do to minimize disruptions by protestors is to be prepared before any protestors ever show up. Here are some tips on how to plan:
Minimize the impact
You don’t want to give protestors the attention they crave so you need to avoid responding to the protest by organizing your own group to counter it. However, you still have an obligation to protect worshippers, volunteers and staff so you can’t totally ignore the protest either.
Strike the right balance
To strike the right balance between minimizing the impact of a protest and monitoring it as a potential threat, you need to get your local police agency involved. If you have advance knowledge of a planned protest, contact local law enforcement so they can help manage the event before it gets out of hand. Only the police have the legal authority and training to deal with disruptive groups. They can help by requiring protestors to stay off church property or conduct their demonstration where they are not interfering with traffic or people.
Manage the message
Protest groups will often contact local media to alert them to a demonstration. If reporters show up, you will want to be prepared with the proper messaging from the church. To be the most effective, your messaging should not be targeted at the demonstrators themselves to engage in a debate. You don’t want them to sue you for defamation. Instead, reiterate the mission of your church and your commitment to ensuring the safety of your staff and church members.
Train staff and communicate with the congregation
Church staff should have specific roles and procedures to follow in case of a protest at the church. Security and parking personnel will likely have the most contact with protestors, so their training is crucial. It is also important to reassure members of your congregation that the church has taken steps to provide for their security. Ask congregants not to engage with the protestors and remind them to follow instructions from police or church security personnel.
Having a plan in place to deal with protests can help your church turn a protest into a non-event. Just be sure you have your plan reviewed by an attorney so you don’t infringe on others’ rights to voice their opinions in public.
The Church Law Center of California assists churches with organization, governance, and risk management. We can help your church craft policies so it is in a better position to address problems as they arise. To find out how we can help your church, call us today at (949) 245-3177 or reach out to us through our contact page.