Topeka If Kansas is going to restrict when and where people can picket funerals, legislators are going to have to enact a new law because of a Kansas Supreme Court ruling Tuesday.
A unanimous court ruled that a section of a 2007 funeral picketing law regulating funeral protesters can't be enforced because the statute's so-called judicial trigger is unconstitutional. The legislation was written not to take effect until it was upheld by a state or federal court.
The court left standing a section of the law allowing families to sue if they feel protesters defamed the dead, an exception to the general rule of law that one cannot libel or slander the dead.
The court said it released the opinion now rather than the normal hand-down day of March 28 to give legislators time to address the issue. The legislation was in response to the Rev. Fred Phelps and his followers protesting at funerals of soldiers killed in combat.
The law says protesters can't be within 150 feet of a funeral one hour before, during or two hours after a service ends. It also makes it unlawful to obstruct any public street or sidewalk.
The federal government and at least 37 states have enacted such laws in response to Phelps and his church.
In Kansas, legislators added the judicial trigger because legislators feared Phelps would file a lawsuit, get the law struck down and collect damages from the state.