Topeka — Legislators are taking extra care with a proposed law and are seeking the help of a Kansas University law professor to assure it will be constitutional.
The law is aimed at curbing the picketing of funerals by Topeka's notorious anti-gay preacher Fred Phelps and his family.
"The last thing the committee wants to do is serve up a (legal) softball that Reverend Phelps can hit over the fence," Sen. Pete Brungardt, R-Salina, said Tuesday after postponing a committee vote on the bill.
The vote was delayed in order to get legal advice from Kansas University professor Steve McAllister.
Brungardt, chairman of the Federal and State Affairs Committee, said the panel probably would vote on the bill next week.
"It's very much alive, but I want the committee to have the opportunity to pass something that's constitutional," he said.
Phelps' Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka is an unaffiliated congregation made up mainly of family members. For years, it has protested at funerals of AIDS victims.
Since Phelps' group started showing up at military funerals, often with placards stating "Thank God for IEDs" and "God Hates America," politicians in several states across the nation have introduced bills to curtail the activity.
Phelps says soldiers are being killed as part of God's punishment of the United States for accepting homosexuals.
Kansas is among at least 14 states considering legislation to limit protesting at funerals.
Phelps, a former attorney, said his group will continue to demonstrate and challenge in court measures he thinks are illegal.
"As far as we're concerned it doesn't matter much - this wave of frantic stuff," he said. "What it has done is it has gotten our message out further than we could ever have gotten it."
McAllister, a constitutional law professor and former dean of the KU Law School, said he would provide information to the committee.
"I'm not even sure I have an ultimate answer for them," McAllister said. "I can talk with them of the considerations and what the Supreme Court has looked at in different settings."
McAllister spent three years as a law clerk for Supreme Court Justices Byron White and Clarence Thomas.
Kansas Senate Bill 421 would ban picketing and protest marches within 300 feet of a funeral service one hour before, during or two hours after the service. Currently, state law says only that it's illegal to picket "before or about" a funeral service.
Phelps has said he is exercising his freedom of speech and religion and the Legislature has no right to impose further restrictions.
McAllister said restrictions are allowed dependent on "time, place and manner."
He said what is allowable on a public street might not be allowable at a private cemetery.