Archive for Sunday, January 28, 2007

Judge refuses to block enforcement of Missouri’s funeral protest law

January 28, 2007


— A federal judge refused Friday to bar Missouri from enforcing limits on protests at military funerals while a Kansas church pursues a constitutional challenge to the state law.

Missouri legislators passed the law last year in response to pickets of soldiers' funerals by members of Westboro Baptist Church. The Topeka church claims God allows soldiers to be killed as punishment on the nation for tolerating homosexuality.

Church member Shirley Phelps-Roper filed suit in July, seeking to have the statute declared an unconstitutional infringement on her First Amendment right of free speech. She also sought preliminary and permanent injunctions barring Attorney General Jay Nixon and Gov. Matt Blunt from enforcing the law.

U.S. District Judge Fernando Gaitan, in an order issued Friday, said Phelps-Roper had failed to satisfy the legal test for imposing a temporary ban on the anti-protest law.

The test, Gaitan said, includes a showing that Phelps-Roper has a strong probability of winning the overall lawsuit and that she would be irreparably harmed if the protest ban continues to be enforced.

Without ruling on Phelps-Roper's free speech claims, Gaitan said the state had raised strong arguments in defense of the law that can be further developed at a trial.

He also said that while the law imposes a buffer of time and space between Phelps-Roper and funeral mourners, she has not been completely deprived of public venues for trying to persuade Americans of a connection between soldiers' deaths and homosexuality.

Missouri's law bans picketing and protests "in front of or about" any location where a funeral is held, from an hour before the funeral begins until an hour after it ends.

Several other states and the federal government have adopted similar restrictions, in response to the protests by members of Phelps-Roper's church.

Nixon issued a statement saying he was "gratified that Judge Gaitan has agreed with us that this law can be enforced."


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