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Kansas legislature

Kansas Legislature

Kline to push for funeral picketing bill

September 22, 2006

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— Atty. Gen. Phill Kline promised Thursday to renew the push for new state restrictions on funeral picketing, and he's supporting a federal proposal to prevent what he calls a "shakedown" when such laws are challenged in court.

Both measures are aimed at the Rev. Fred Phelps Sr. and his Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, which has received national attention for picketing soldiers' funerals. The church contends soldiers' deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan are God's punishment for the United States tolerating homosexuality.

Kline and a half-dozen fellow Republicans plan to introduce a bill on funeral picketing once the 2007 Legislature convenes in January. They also are endorsing a proposal from U.S. Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan., to prevent anyone who challenges such a law in court from recovering attorney fees.

"I'm supportive of any constitutional method available to shut the mouth of the Phelpses," Kline said during a news conference. "A reasonable restriction at a funeral is not harmful to free speech."

Shirley Phelps-Roper, an attorney and church member, dismissed Kline and other supporters of such efforts as demagogues. She called Kline "a fool" and "pitiful," saying he is trying desperately to hold onto his office as he faces re-election.




First Amendment

Protests by the Rev. Fred Phelps Sr.'s Westboro Baptist Church have some calling for laws against picketing at funerals. But the church group says it has a right to picket under the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment, which reads: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." Source: The National Archives

"Shortly, this nation is going to have bodies stacked so high, you can't bury them," she said during a telephone interview from Albuquerque, N.M., where the church was picketing a funeral. "All those laws and all this activity and all this mischief isn't going to help them one iota."

"They hate God. They hate his judgments. They will not obey his commandments," she added.

The federal government and more than half the states, including Missouri, have enacted laws restricting funeral picketing, but Kansas legislators couldn't agree this year on a proposal. Some worried that if the law were too restrictive, Fred Phelps and his followers would successfully challenge it in court - and be awarded attorneys' fees, further financing their activities.

Laws in Kentucky, Missouri and Ohio are being challenged in federal court by Westboro Baptist, the American Civil Liberties Union or both. Phelps and his church have been sued in Maryland and Missouri by family members of dead soldiers.

Kline said a federal law allowing people filing civil rights lawsuits to recover their costs was designed to allow people of modest means a way to challenge discriminatory policies.

"In no way was that provision to be utilized for shakedowns of government in a legitimate action to protect those who've suffered the loss of a loved one," Kline said.

Tiahrt said people he has talked with in Washington were appalled that groups such as Westboro Baptist Church could use "frivolous" lawsuits to fund such activities.

"If they really do want to file suit, they should do so, I believe, with their own resources," Tiahrt said. "Here they are, trying to cash in on their bad behavior. I just think taxpayer dollars can be better spent."

But Phelps-Roper said church members simply were "servants of the living God." She also said their activities were protected by the First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and religion and to peaceably assemble.

"Somebody ought to ask Mr. Dingbat Tiahrt if he's every actually read the First Amendment," she said.

Kansas law already says it is illegal to picket "before or about" a funeral service one hour before, during or two hours after the service starts. Violators face up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

But Sen. Jean Schodorf, R-Wichita, who sponsored this year's legislation, said existing law is so vague that it's hard to enforce. Legislators have discussed setting a limit on how close picketers can get to a funeral, such as 300 feet.

Kline, locked in a close re-election race, has been criticized by Democratic challenger Paul Morrison, the Johnson County district attorney, about a $500 contribution Kline received in October 2002 from a member of the Phelps family.

Kline has said he didn't know the donor was connected to Westboro Baptist, and he subsequently donated the same amount to the Patriot Guard, a group that protests against the Phelpses.

Comments

MyName 8 years, 3 months ago

This just goes to show that, no matter which side of the aisle you're on, the consensus is that Phelps is nutty! I just hope we don't spend alot of money trying to uphold this law in court.

GOPConservative 8 years, 3 months ago

Just because the homosexual-loving Morrison made a big deal out of Fred Phelps' support of Brother Kline, Phill felt he had to make this horrible decision to try to silence Brother Phelps in his heroic battle against sin.

That's, okay, Phill. We all know how you really feel. Keep going after those contributions from churches who support your battle against the evil homosexuals. Your campaign deserves to be tax-exempt because you are doing the Lord's work.

Those soldiers who die in Iraq are homo-lovers and deserve to have Brother Phelps at their funerals, but we understand that nature of politics and forgive you for your decision.

jonas 8 years, 3 months ago

"Phil Kline: He's consistently rediculously wrong, but at least he's consistent!" would make a good campaign slogan.

kugrad 8 years, 3 months ago

Since the unconstitutionality of such measures has already been established, Phill Kline again shows his lack of understanding of that document as well as the law itself. Kline has been on the wrong side of so many legal arguments that it is absurd for him to be the Attorney General. This is part of a desperate re-election strategy. Kline's probably also mad because Phelp's didn't deliver any "big fish" who could "drop $2000" at his illegal church fundraisers.

ksmoderate 8 years, 3 months ago

I agree, kugrad. Instead of approaching the way he is, I think Kline should be pursuing a way to make his point to Phelps by ruling his right to "peaceably assemble" is unconstitutional. After all, are his assemblies peaceable? No way. He calls for violence and retribution. That is not peace.

verity 8 years, 3 months ago

Why are we giving the Phelpses all this publicity? It's exactly what they want. They like nothing more than a fight. Ignore them or say "Hello, how are you? Nice to see you here." and walk on. And, yes, that is what I do the numerous times I have walked by them.

They probably want nothing more than for this law to be passed so they can have another fight which will be in the national and international news. And they will probably win.

Please just ignore them.

oldgoof 8 years, 3 months ago

Others here are totally correct. This is only about Phill successfully generating columnar inches of news coverage during a campaign. Nothing less, nothing more.

dozer 8 years, 3 months ago

kugrad - when was the constitutionality established? I'm interested in reading up on this subject.

You gotta laugh at Margie, she is absolutely crazier than a bat covered in cow dung!

Margie - the second amendment says we have the right to bear arms, does that mean I get to carry a stinger missle around in my truck, or are there limits to the amendments?

compmd 8 years, 3 months ago

The real issue that Kline needs to look at is the legalization of napalm. If he could get a bill that would permit the sale of napalm passed by the legislature, I think the Phelps problem would go away REALLY fast. Then I'd vote for Phill, because that would have been awesome.

mom_of_three 8 years, 3 months ago

You have the right to free speech and to peacefully assemble, but I don't know if what the Phelps' do is called peaceful.

Jamesaust 8 years, 3 months ago

Its rather funny that the Phelpses have been protesting funerals and such for at least a decade but only suddenly does Kline find this a priority.

Its even more curious seeing that what Kline disagrees with the Phelpses about is not the message but rather the locus of delivery.

Emily Hadley 8 years, 3 months ago

"Kline and a half-dozen fellow Republicans plan to introduce a bill on funeral picketing once the 2007 Legislature convenes in January."

And?

I thought we might get an idea what this bill contains. Or something more than what I gathered from the title.

The funeral picketing law is already on the books, sooo..... ?

?

Oh well.

kugrad 8 years, 3 months ago

Dozer, Check out the print version of the LJW today - I could be wrong, but I think there is a mention of some relevant decisions in there. Phelps has been to court over his right to picket numerous times. The State legislature declined to seriously consider such a bill just this past year with lawmakers stating that they couldn't find a way to craft a law that wasn't unconstitutional.

EXks 8 years, 3 months ago

You GOPConservative, like the rest of Phelps and his inbred klan are small pitiful COWARDS. It will be a fine day indeed when we can picket yours and Phelps funeral

citizen_in_kansas 8 years, 3 months ago

I think Phill Kline is showing his true political strips. He twists every situation around him to fulfill is own agenda. He is now speaking up for funeral picketing, but he has been involved with the FRC (Family Research Center). For more information on the organization here is their link http://www.frc.org/ . Kline always proclaims his strong Christian beliefs and then uses those that trust him for their money.

ksmoderate 8 years, 3 months ago

Yes, citizen!

Kline is speaking in D.C. with Slummy Sam Brownback, Jerry Falwell, James Dobson, Tony Snow, and....this is good...ANN COULTER at a Christian Right political gathering. Aren't we all proud that Kline is associating with Ann Coulter? (sounds of me retching)

BigDog 8 years, 3 months ago

It is interesting that so many people talk about the first amendment and that "there can't be limitations" on it.

There are already limitations on freedom of speech: you can't say anything you want ...... ie. making false statements, threatening someone, yelling FIRE ..... and it isn't about limiting their speech ..... it s about limiting where they are allowed to spew their crap. Limitations on where you can protest is done all the time

Porter 8 years, 3 months ago

"Kline and a half-dozen fellow Republicans plan to introduce a bill on funeral picketing... "

I thought the AG was supposed to uphold the law, not create new ones. Am I mistaken?

Apparently, the WBC isn't on his list of campaign stops...

GOPConservative 8 years, 3 months ago

Bottom line: Phelps is embraced by the many of the same people who embrace Phill Kline. Phelps has even contributed to Kline's campaign, and Kline accepted the contribution.

Nutcases like Phelps, Kline and Ryun don't represent either Democrat or Republican values. They are totalitarian socialists.

8 years, 3 months ago

If he wants to make law, he should have stayed in the legislature. WTF.

GOPConservative 8 years, 3 months ago

Exks took me seriously when I pretended to be in the same camp as Phelps and Kline. I was playing a satirical role of a rightwing nut.

For the record, I detest the totalitarian philosophy of Phelps, Ryun, Kline and all the other hate mongers from the crackpot churches. I was being satirical when I pretended to agree with Kline and Phelps, but Exks took me seriously.

Sorry, Exks. I'm on your side.

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