MISSOURI: Westboro Baptist Church Wins Right To Picket Funerals
A federal judge in Missouri ruled yesterday that a ban on political protests near funerals is unconstitutional. In 2006 Missouri legislators passed the ban in an attempt to thwart the Westboro Baptist Church.
The primary state law had barred protests near any church, cemetery or funeral establishment from an hour before until an hour after any funeral ceremony, procession or memorial service. The secondary measure specifically stated protesters must stay back at least 300 feet from ceremonies and processions. Both provisions levied the same penalty: up to six months in jail and a $500 fine for a first offense and up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine for repeat offenders. Judge Gaitan concluded Missouri officials did not demonstrate the protest restrictions served a significant government interest nor that they had been narrowly tailored to prevent the harm of interruptions of funeral services. The judge wrote he was sympathetic to the argument people attending a funeral deserve some protection but noted a federal appeals court already had previously rejected that argument.The case was brought on Westboro's behalf by the ACLU, who always does the right, if difficult, thing.