LAS VEGAS – Police and church officials in Las Vegas are investigating a recent series of disruptive protests at Roman Catholic parishes that they say put worshippers on edge and led to plans for increased patrols around churches this weekend.
No injuries, damage or arrests resulted from demonstrations reported Oct. 31 and Dec. 5 at churches downtown, just off the Las Vegas Strip and several miles east of the Strip, police Officer Michael Rodriguez said Friday. There was also a protest at a Catholic high school on Dec. 2.
"All of these appear to be linked," Rodriguez said. "It appears to be the same tactic — going into the churches during services, handing out fliers and making inflammatory statements."
Each time, the men protesting were gone when police arrived.
Video uploaded to YouTube shows a few men, including two wearing T-shirts reading "Trust Jesus" and "Repent or Perish," walking down a church aisle, handing paper religious tracts to parishioners, declaring Christ as savior and shouting derogatory comments about the pope and Catholic icons.
The Catholic Diocese of Las Vegas confirmed what it called "multiple disturbances" at several locations.
"This group appears to be a Christian group trying to disrupt Catholic services," a diocese statement said.
The incidents were being investigated as a possible violation of a Nevada law making it a misdemeanor to disrupt religious meetings, said police Officer Mike Brambila, a member of a department community outreach unit.
"These persons are obviously disrespecting these houses of worship" and disrupting parishioners' ability to worship peacefully, he said.
Officers probably won't be posted at churches but would increase patrols nearby, Brambila said.
A video identifies the men as members of a group using the name Koosha Las Vegas. It wasn't immediately clear if the entity has a leader or spokesperson. No phone number or address was found for a man interviewed by television station KTNV as a representative of the group and a street preacher.
Troy Martinez, pastor of the East Vegas Christian Center and leader of a network of 104 churches active in community affairs in and around Las Vegas, said he did not recognize the man's name.
Brambila and Rodriguez didn't identify the men, whose faces are visible on video.
Diocese security consultant Steve Meriwether called the incidents "very unsettling" for church members. He said church leaders told parishioners not to confront demonstrators but to call police and record any similar incidents on cellphone video.
"We want people to be vigilant," Meriwether said. "Our churches are open to people, whatever they believe, as long as they're respectful. Imagine someone coming into your home and telling you what to do."