Kansas church to defy federal appeals ruling upholding funeral protests ban

[JURIST] Followers of the Kansas-based fundamentalist Westboro Baptist Church [JURIST news archive; BBC report] plan to stage a protest at the funeral [press release] for late Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-OH) [profile] Saturday, despite a federal appeals court ruling last week that upheld an Ohio law limiting funeral protests. The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit [official website] last week upheld Ohio's funeral protest law [text] against a constitutional challenge raised by Westboro member Shirley Phelps-Roper. Westboro church members have been going around the country picketing military funerals in recent years, claiming US soldiers have been killed because America tolerates homosexuals. Phelps-Roper claimed that the Ohio law was unconstitutionally overbroad, in violation of the First Amendment. The district court rejected Phelps-Roper's challenge, concluding that the provision was a constitutional content-neutral regulation of the time and manner of protests and that the state of Ohio has a significant interest in protecting its citizens from disruptions during funeral events. The Sixth Circuit affirmed [opinion, PDF], stating that the law was reasonable and that:

Individuals mourning the loss of a loved one share a privacy right similar to individuals in their homes or individuals entering a medical facility...Unwanted intrusion during the last moments the mourners share with the deceased during a sacred ritual surely infringes upon the recognized right of survivors to mourn the deceased. Furthermore, just as a resident subjected to picketing is 'left with no ready means of avoiding the unwanted speech,' mourners cannot easily avoid unwanted protests without sacrificing their right to partake in the funeral or burial service.
USA Today has more.

In April, Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius [official website] signed similar legislation [JURIST report; press release] banning protests within 150 feet of a funeral one hour before, during, and two hours after the end of a service. At least 37 other states have passed similar laws in response to the Westboro pickets, and a federal law [JURIST report] restricting protests at Arlington National Cemetery and other federal cemeteries has also been passed.

 

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