Nov. 26 2008 12:00 AM

Disturb the Reverend, get thrown in jail.

State Rep. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, is drafting legislation to make disrupting a religious meeting a misdemeanor punishable by up to a $5,000 fine and a year in prison.

Jones’ legislation comes on the heels of a gay anarchist group’s infiltration of Mt. Hope Church in Eaton County two weeks ago.

Jones, a former Eaton County Sheriff, said in an interview that in Michigan an invasion and disruption of a religious service is already a misdemeanor offense. Jones’ legislation would make the infraction a high misdemeanor and make penalties more severe than the existing $1,000 maximum fine.

He said he would introduce this legislation during the 2009 session.

Jones said local religious leaders contacted him after the Nov. 10 protest by self-described queer activist group, Bash Back, at Mt. Hope. Some members of Bash Back dressed as parishioners, infiltrated the church and then interrupted the service.

He said citizens are also concerned about the invasion of religious services.

“When I talked to citizens in the coffee shops, they were very upset about whose church was next,” Jones said.

Jones said that his strong respect for the First Amendment and freedom of religion is the main motivation for the proposed law. The freedoms of protestors to assemble and voice their views are also important, he said, but these should not conflict.

“One right does not disrupt another right,” he said.

Jones spoke about churches, but said protection would “of course” be applied to mosques, synagogues and other places of worship as well.

“It sends a very strong message that hoodlum-type behavior is not welcome here in Michigan,” Jones said.