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First Amendment

Court Enjoins Law That Barred Fringe Church’s Funeral Protests

Posted Dec 6, 2007 2:28 PM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A federal appeals court has barred enforcement of a Missouri law that stopped members of a fringe Kansas church from protesting at soldiers’ funerals.

Members of the Westboro Baptist Church say God is punishing the United States for homosexuality by killing soldiers and other Americans. Members show up at soldiers’ funerals carrying signs with such messages as "Thank God for Dead Soldiers" and "God Hates Fags.”

The St. Louis-based 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted a preliminary injunction (PDF) today, finding that the church member challenging the statute had “a fair chance of prevailing on the merits” of her claim that the law violated her First Amendment rights.

The plaintiff, Shirley Phelps-Roper, is the ministry’s lawyer and the daughter of its founder, Fred Phelps.

She challenged a Missouri law that bars picketing “in front of or about” a funeral location or procession. In the event the prohibition is declared unconstitutional, another section of the law bars picketing within 300 feet of funerals. The court said in its opinion that Phelps-Roper is entitled to a preliminary injunction while her constitutional claims are reviewed.

Nearly half of the states in the country have enacted or proposed similar laws in reaction to the church’s shock tactics, ABAJournal.com noted in a recent post. The father of a fallen Marine took another tack to discourage the protests, suing the church and winning nearly $11 million in damages in October for emotional distress and invasion of privacy.

A hat tip to How Appealing, which posted the opinion.

For more, see a story in the July 2006 ABA Journal on the Westboro Baptist Church.


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