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September 9, 2009

How to Handle Disruptive People

When you need to ask someone to leave your church.


Does a church have a legal right to keep people from accessing its property or attending services? For example, let's say that a church has an encounter with a disruptive person, and asks him not to return. What if he shows up again the next week? How should ushers respond?

This issue has been addressed by a number of courts. Generally, the courts have been sympathetic to attempts by churches to deny access to disruptive individuals. To illustrate, one court ruled that a church could bar a disruptive individual from entering its premises. It noted that the person had been clearly informed and understood that his privilege to attend the church had been revoked. The court rejected the person's claim that a church is a public place that cannot deny access to anyone. To the contrary, a church, like any property owner, has the right to determine who can access its premises.

Let me mention another case in which a court ruled that a church could prevent a disruptive person from accessing its property. The person had disrupted church services, and harassed members, in the past. A court issued an order prohibiting the person from coming within 200 yards of the church. This order was upheld by a state appeals court, which found it to be a reasonable limitation on socially unacceptable behavior. Such cases demonstrate that the civil courts will assist churches in keeping disruptive individuals away by issuing appropriate orders. This obviously is a last resort, but it is one that is available in dealing with persons who will not behave appropriately.

You can learn more about how to handle people who disrupt your services or pose a potential threat to the safety of your church members in a new ChurchSafety.com download titled, “Dealing with Dangerous People.”

How has your church handled a disruptive person in the past? How is your church challenged by this issue?

Related Tags: liability, Richard Hammar


Has any church had experience with organized disruption and demonstrations? Doesn't a federal statute specifically cover such collective actions? (not RICCO) Has it ever been enforced at the Federal level?

What is a church's responsibility to a disruptive person in the home? I'm talking about someone who lost his temper and yelled at someone during service. The leaders excorted him out of service then held him accountible with daily phone calls for a week or two. But no one checked up on the safety of his wife and children, even when the wife told the pastor she feared her husband would become physically violent with her and/or the children.

I find this article very interesting, but where can I find the court cases you are referring to?

I suspect the legal issue of banishing a person from church premises depends upon (1) the church's form of government, (2) the person's status (i.e., member or visitor), and (3) the authority of the person or body ordereding the banishment. If the form of government is congregational/independent, rather than prelatical or denominational/prespyterian, then the local church members govern it democratically. If the disruptive person is a member, his/her membership might need to be formally revoked pursuant to the governing documents before he/she could be excluded from the church premises. A disruptive visitor, however, could likely be ordered to leave by any church leader in apparent control of the premises, and law enforcement likely would assist in the ouster.

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