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Archive for Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Funeral picket bill tests constitutional limits

KU professor advising legislators says buffers may not hold up

February 15, 2006

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— Attempts to keep the Rev. Fred Phelps 300 feet from funerals may be pushing constitutional limits on free speech, Kansas University law professor Stephen McAllister said Tuesday.

Kansas and numerous other states are trying to keep Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church followers away from mourners at soldiers' funerals.

For years, Phelps and his family have been demonstrating at funerals of AIDS victims. Recently, he started showing up at soldiers' funerals with signs stating "Thank God for IEDs" and "Thank God for Dead Soldiers."

Phelps says soldiers are being killed as part of God's punishment of the United States for accepting homosexuals.

In Kansas, Senate Bill 421 would ban picketing and protest marches within 300 feet of a funeral service one hour before, during and 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 the bill would infringe upon his rights of speech and religion.

Members of the Patriot Guard, a group of motorcyclists, veterans and others who help shield military funerals from the protest pickets of the Westboro Baptist Church, gather in front of the group led by Fred Phelps during the funeral for Cpl. Lucas Allen Frantz in Tonganoxie in this Oct. 27, 2005, file photo.

Members of the Patriot Guard, a group of motorcyclists, veterans and others who help shield military funerals from the protest pickets of the Westboro Baptist Church, gather in front of the group led by Fred Phelps during the funeral for Cpl. Lucas Allen Frantz in Tonganoxie in this Oct. 27, 2005, file photo.

McAllister said the Legislature probably could restrict protests around nonpublic forums, which include cemeteries, churches and funeral homes. But he said a 300-foot area likely would encompass traditionally public forums, such as sidewalks and streets. He said courts have refused to limit speech in those public areas, except in limited instances around abortion clinics.

"There are virtually no cases that uphold a buffer zone of a significant distance," said McAllister, a constitutional law professor, former dean of the KU law school and former clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justices Byron White and Clarence Thomas.

The Senate's Federal and State Affairs Committee is considering the bill. Its chairman, Sen. Pete Brungardt, R-Salina, said he would like the panel to think about McAllister's testimony and then perhaps craft a bill later in the week.

Brandy Sacco, whose husband, Sgt. Dominic Sacco, 32, died in Iraq, said she was disappointed to hear McAllister's legal analysis, but was confident lawmakers could write legislation that was constitutional.

"I'm not giving up," she said.

In November, Phelps and his followers protested Dominic Sacco's funeral in Topeka.

Richard Strothman - one of the founders of the Patriot Guard, a group of motorcyclists, veterans and others who attend soldiers' funerals and hold flags and banners to keep Phelps and his followers out of sight - said he would continue to lobby for legislation.

"I understand the distances will probably not fly, but we dang sure need a bill," Strothman said.

Comments

craigers 8 years, 10 months ago

It's sad we even have to write a bill about this specifically designed for the disgraceful people in our society.

RonBurgandy 8 years, 10 months ago

The patriot guard kicks phelps & co.'s patooty.

Ember 8 years, 10 months ago

Laws, regardless of how distasteful the target person is, should never be written with a single person in mind. The Terry Schaivo circus in Florida should be a prime exmple of why it simply doesn't work.

Bearing that in mind, wouldn't it be easier to enact a picketing ordinance whereas there are specific permits that are required? Design it to where the buffer zone that is being proposed would be enforced, and breaking the rules of this ordinance would make it to where police officers would be allowed, legally, to disperse the entire crowd that is involved with the protest.

If we can cage the KKK, we can cage Phelps. It's not that difficult. It just takes some concerted effort on the part of our politicians.

Moderateguy 8 years, 10 months ago

Here's an idea. Rather than the current proposal, how about the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks creating a legal open hunting season for Phred and his phollowers. I'm sure the root of the problem would be solved in short order.

Chris Phillips 8 years, 10 months ago

I would never seriously propose any violence towards anyone, but if Freddy and his Picketeers stay on their current path, I can see a pretty ugly end to all of this if they anger the wrong person at a funeral. I hope that they get some common sense, or at the very least some common decency to let grieving families have some privacy.

antipas 8 years, 10 months ago

Are you actually telling me that the biker chicks, who are filthy beasts, are honoring the pieces of a dead soldier by peeing on our vehicles, attempting to seriously harm and silence our preaching, and otherwise commiting vandalism and other unlawful deeds? You are a particularly God-hating fool, aren't you? If a funeral is used by family, media and military as a patriotic pep rally and recruiting ground, it's THE place for protesting. If the family wants a private funeral, they should stop issuing press releases, and lining up a festive violent group out front. Then we won't be there. But as long as these funerals - -- are used as a public platform to pretend America is great, and that the dead soldier is in heaven -- we're going to be there to disagree. You can't force people to bow down and worship your public displays of worshiping America and patrotism. Meanwhile thanks to the Oklahoma Taliban our message is getting out more than ever. Our goal is to publish -- not convert the devil and his children. We are crystal clear on the fact that no one in this rebellious country is going to heed this message. That's irrelevant to us. The only question is whether we did our duty, which is to love our neighbor as ourselves, which can only be done properly per the Bible in one way, to wit, by rebuking our neighbors for their sin and telling them God's wrath is going to destroy them if they keep it up. So open up your eyes you clueless dimwits! God is killing those soldiers! (Just like he killed the miners, the 911 victims, the Katrina victims, etc.) If you obey God he'll bless you; if you disobey him he'll curse you. The Bible only says that about a thousand times. Don't look now, but GOD IS CURSING AMERICA. No one can stop it. Bombastic Bigmouth Bush doesn't have the first idea what to do about the IED crisis, nor does anyone else. We do. Obey God. Then they'll stop. Not a minute before. So every time you use one of the deaths God brought about to rebel against him further, we're going to tell you that again. So stop crying like girls, read the Bible, and obey it. Anathema Maranatha, Isaiah

Moderateguy 8 years, 10 months ago

Eeeewww. Darn it, now I have to go take a shower after reading that garbage..... Now I know the name of the beast is "antipas."

yourworstnightmare 8 years, 10 months ago

Actually, the post by the Phelpsian is more reasonable and considered than many of the right-wing screeds posted on this site.

j_d 8 years, 10 months ago

Folks, meet Ben Phelps. Or, rather, meet his favorite sock puppet.

ModSquadGal 8 years, 10 months ago

Antipas - "You can't force people to bow down and worship your public displays of worshiping America and patrotism. " Can you say HYPOCRITE????

You and your cronies want everyone else to bow down and worship your public displays of worshipping (and I use the term lightly), but you can't seem to divert from your myopic hatefest long enough to see you are just a gang of cowards hiding behind the first amendment. Anyone else find that ironic?

"The only question is whether we did our duty, which is to love our neighbor as ourselves, which can only be done properly per the Bible in one way, to wit, by rebuking our neighbors for their sin and telling them God's wrath is going to destroy them if they keep it up." Wow. What a great guy your god is. Who wouldn't want to "worship" an entity who hates his followers so much he only preaches non-tolerance and hate... even towards themselves?

Do me a favor. Don't love me. I've got enough neighbors and you 'aint one of 'em.

yourworstnightmare 8 years, 10 months ago

"...but you can't seem to divert from your myopic hatefest long enough to see you are just a gang of cowards hiding behind the first amendment. Anyone else find that ironic?"

No, not ironic, Exactly what the First was meant for.

Jay_lo 8 years, 10 months ago

How futile the attempt to discuss religion with the person who thinks he speaks for God Himself.

On the serious side, when I first heard about the Patriot Guard, my initial reaction was that they would only add to the circus atmosphere at the fringes beyond the family and friends truly mourning.

Upon further reflection, however, I realized just how welcome and important the support of these caring individuals could be to the grieving families and friends.

It also occured to me that should an individual's family wish that they not show their presence at such a private time, that they would surely respect those wishes and quietly depart. The same can, most assuredly, not be said of Mr. (I refuse to use the term Reverend) Phelps and his followers.

The Patriot Guard must, however, be careful to maintain the image, and ideals, of a supporting group, and not become confrontational to, or appear as, an anti-Phelps organization, as this would subject them to the same laws, should they be enacted, as those intended to dissuade Mr. Phelps from his contemptible practice of protesting at said funeral proceedings.

I applaud the Patriot Guard for their hopefully successful efforts to screen those in their most private moments of personal grief from the misguided and hate filled efforts of Mr. Phelps and those he misleads.

Linda Endicott 8 years, 10 months ago

"You can't force people to bow down and worship your public displays of worshiping America and patrotism. "

But this is exactly what YOU are attempting to do. You want people to bow down and worship you and your beliefs, as sick and twisted as they are.

In fact, you seem to worship only one thing, which apparently to you is the almighty phred phelps. God got pushed totally to the wayside.

No god I've ever read about is as full of hatred as you are. And it IS hatred you've been spewing. Or do you consider it love sonnets?

ModSquadGal 8 years, 10 months ago

I was being ironical about the ironical-ness... ha ha

What I should have said is they are hiding behind the guise of an actual religion, or the "God" of which they speak. Still COWARDS. Still just sheep with no hope of an opinion that some book didn't shove down their throats. Still not worth the time and effort it takes to keep their ridiculous tirade of hate at bay.

Phred and his phollowers are too dumb to see that they, themselves, are violating their own God's "rules" and they will be punished for it according to their own sick and twisted viewpoint.

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