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St. Charles County can ban members of the Westboro Baptist Church and others from protesting outside of funerals. That was the finding of the US District Court in St. Louis Tuesday, which dismissed a lawsuit filed by members of the controversial Kansas Church.
The county ordinance prohibits picketing an hour before or an hour after, at or near funerals violated in unincorporated areas. The ordinance defines picketing at a funeral as “Protest activities engaged in by a person or persons located within three hundred (300) feet of the premises of a cemetery, mortuary, church or other place of worship or other location during, and which target, a funeral.” Those who do not follow the ordinance will be charged with a misdemeanor. If convicted, the individual(s) will be charged with a maximum $1,000 fine.
Shirley Phelps-Roper and Megan Phelps-Roper had sued shortly after the ordinance was passed in Dec. 2010, claiming that enforcement of the ordinance violated their First Amendment free speech, religious liberty and assembly rights. They also claimed that the ordinance violates Missouri’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act. According to the judgment, the plaintiffs assert that “they picket near certain funerals, including those of American soldiers, to publish their beliefs that God is punishing America for its failure to obey God’s Word...”
On Aug. 20, the United States District Court in St. Louis granted a motion dismissing the lawsuit.
St. Charles County Councilman Joe Brazil was the original sponsor of the ordinance. “I think it is a great victory for us,” said Brazil. “Families deserve privacy and the right to grieve the loss of their loved one without having hateful and disrespectful protest activities nearby.”
The ruling in favor of St. Charles County came after the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld similar funeral restrictions for the city of Manchester and the state of Missouri.
“Families have the right to mourn their loved ones peacefully and privately,” said St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann. “I hope this ruling sends a message and helps to set more precedents.”
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - A federal appeals court has upheld a Missouri law banning protests within 300 feet of funerals but has struck down a broader law that could have kept protesters even further away.
The decision Friday by a panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stems from a challenge to a pair of 2006 Missouri laws enacted after protests of military members' funerals by a Kansas-based church that denounces homosexuality.
The appeals court said a Missouri law barring protests "in front of or about any location at which a funeral is held" violates First Amendment free speech rights because it creates a buffer zone of an undetermined size. It upheld a separate law setting the 300-foot buffer around funerals but said it cannot apply to funeral processions.