The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear a case barring protesters from disrupting services at St. John’s Cathedral in Denver.
A few years ago, a group of anti-abortion protesters took to picketing outside the cathedral, showing graphic images of aborted fetuses. This was especially disturbing on Palm Sunday and at other times when parishioners, including small children, were outdoors. From the Denver Post:
The order stems from a 2005 protest during which Kenneth Scott and others protested near an outdoor Palm Sunday service at Denver’s Saint John’s Cathedral. Protesters, who disagreed with the Episcopal church’s stance in favor of abortion rights, shouted at the group while displaying large images of aborted fetuses. About 200 children attended the service, and several became upset during the protest.
The church sued Scott, and an order was issued that banned him from displaying “gruesome images of mutilated fetuses or dead bodies in a manner reasonably likely to be viewed by children under 12.” The order bans Scott and other protesters from displaying the images only near the Denver church.
The Very Rev. Peter Eaton, dean of St. John’s, wrote in a letter to parishioners this week:
For many years, a small fundamentalist Christian group led by Ken Scott conducted demonstrations outside the Cathedral. They demonstrated on many occasions over the years, but had come to focus on Palm Sunday and Easter Day, when we conduct religious services and activities outdoors. Their demonstrations significantly disrupted our worship, and clearly upset our parishioners, especially our children.
Over time we had tried a number of ways to discourage this interference, but without effect. In 2005, a new parishioner and attorney, David Ball, along with the then Sub-Dean, Stephen Carlsen, were so disturbed by the demonstration that they resolved to try to obtain a restraining order. Our petition for a temporary restraining order was heard four days later, on Good Friday, and was granted. Subsequently, that restraining order became permanent. Since that time, Mr. Scott has been appealing the judgment through the legal system. The judgment in favor of the Cathedral has been upheld through a series of appeals, and now cannot be challenged further. Mr. Scott and his group may still demonstrate, but they must stand in a specific area across the street and down the block in a place where the interference with our religious worship and activities will be minimal.
We are of course delighted with the final outcome of this case. Both Mr. Scott’s freedom of speech and our freedom of worship have been upheld, and we now have a “buffer zone” between us and the demonstrators.