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Archive for Friday, April 28, 2006

Agreement reached on funeral picketing

April 28, 2006

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— The Rev. Fred Phelps and his followers couldn't protest closer than 500 feet to any funeral of a U.S. soldier killed in combat and couldn't use noise to disrupt the service under a tentative compromise bill worked out by House and Senate negotiators.

"We're substantially on the same page," Sen. Pete Brungardt, R-Salina, said Thursday.

Before signing the agreement, the committee wants Stephen McAllister, a Kansas University professor and constitutional scholar, to review the language to see if it can withstand a legal challenge, Brungardt, his chamber's lead negotiator, said.

"I want to see the words on paper, but we are definitely in the red zone," said Rep. John Edmonds, his chamber's lead negotiator on the bill.

The measure doesn't single out Phelps and his followers, but legislators say the bill was prompted by their protests at the funerals of U.S. troops killed in combat. They contend the deaths are God's vengeance for the U.S. harboring homosexuals. They also say their protests are a form of religious expression.

Kansas is among 31 states this year to consider legislation restricting protest activities around funerals, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Eleven have enacted laws - Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Virginia and Wisconsin.

State law says only that it's illegal to picket "before or about" a funeral service.

Negotiators agreed to a buffer zone of 500 feet one hour before, during and two hours after the service. It would also make it illegal for protesters to prevent the intended use of public space such as streets and sidewalks.

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