Judge rules Mo. funeral protest ban unconstitutional

The Morning Sun, Wisconsin/August 17, 2010

On Monday, a federal judge found that Missouri's ban restricting protests at funerals to be unconstitutional.

That ruling affects the restrictions targeting Westboro Baptist Church, based in Topeka, whose members have protested outside the funerals of soldiers killed during the Iraq war. One of the church leaders filed a lawsuit challenging Missouri's law which states that there can be no protests of a funeral, procession or memorial service from one hour before to one hour after the service. An addition to that law says that protesters have to stay at least 300 feet of the service.

Federal Judge Fernando Gaitan said that the law infringes on the right of free speech.

In 2008, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the state's funeral picketing ban passed in 2007 was unconstitutional because of what they ruled as "defective" language. The Kansas Legislature updated that language and passed another bill during their 2008 session.

Kansas Attorney General Steve Six said Monday that, despite the ruling in Missouri, Kansas' law was still constitutional.

"Kansans can be confident that if the Phelps family attempts to use this ruling in Missouri as a way to attack our law I will vigorously defend our right to protect Kansas families," Six said.

He referred to the Phelps family as the family that operated the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka.

"When I became Attorney General, one of my first actions was to work with the Governor and the legislature to craft a ban on funeral protests that was constitutional," Six said. "When Kansans are in mourning at a funeral, their right to grieve must be protected. The Constitution does not protect those who attempt to hijack solemn proceedings in order to spread hateful ideas."

He said that Monday's ruling was a main reason why he, along with 48 other attorneys general filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court arguing in support of funeral picketing laws across the nation.

The case before the U.S. Supreme Court is Snyder v. Phelps and oral arguments are scheduled be to heard on Oct. 6, 2010.

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