Archive for Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Appeals court strikes down funeral protest ban aimed at Westboro Baptist Church

October 5, 2011


— A Missouri town cannot enforce an ordinance banning peaceful picketing outside of funerals, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a district court ruling in favor of members of Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., saying peaceful protests near funerals are protected by the First Amendment's right to free speech.

The city of Manchester, Mo., a St. Louis suburb, adopted an ordinance in 2007 in response to activities by Westboro members, who frequently protest at funerals of soldiers with signs containing messages like "Thank God for dead soldiers" and "Thank God for 9/11." Church members claim the deaths are God's punishment for American immorality and tolerance of homosexuality and abortion.

"These broad laws that prevent standing with a sign silently on a sidewalk do not further any government interest that would justify setting aside the First Amendment," said Tony Rothert, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented Westboro members Shirley and Megan Phelps-Roper.

It wasn't clear if Manchester would appeal. Messages left with attorneys for the city were not returned.

Several courts around the country are dealing with city ordinances and state laws aimed at keeping Westboro Baptist members away from funerals of members of the military.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in favor of Westboro Baptist in a lawsuit filed by Albert Snyder, the father of a fallen Marine who sued the church for the emotional pain they caused by showing up at his son Matthew's funeral.

Last month, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed two laws aimed at keeping protesters away from funerals.

Last year, a federal judge in Kansas City, Mo., struck down Missouri's funeral protest statute as unconstitutional.

But some rulings have favored the protest laws. Manchester's ordinance was modeled after a funeral protest statute in Ohio. Courts have upheld that statute.

The 8th Circuit saw things differently in the Manchester case.

"Allowing speech we find offensive in public forums is one cost of the freedoms that define America," Rothert said. "Today's decision vindicates the American tradition of allowing robust public debate on issues of public importance."


KEITHMILES05 6 years, 5 months ago

Cities needs to stop wasting taxpayers money and their own time with this sort of futile effort. Have they not kept up on the many decisions handed down? Time and time and time again the courts are ruling for protection of speech and it matters not if it is the Phelps signs or saying the N word or other stuff. It will be protected. Move on and take of business and leave these freaks alone. They THRIVE on publicity.

Grump 6 years, 5 months ago

The Phelps will receive attorneys' fees for this too.

hujiko 6 years, 5 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

Liberty275 6 years, 5 months ago

You are subject to the TOS of this award winning news corporation's forum when you post here. Be careful.

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 5 months ago

Our dear friend the Reverend Fred Phelps is now 81 years old.

I wonder if there will be a big parade with big signs, banners, and floats when the inevitable event occurs.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 5 months ago

I'll attend, with a big sign in bold colors. I'll even purchase a bull horn for the occasion.

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 5 months ago

P.S. He will be 82 on November 13, so be sure to mark that date on your calendar so you won't forget to send him a birthday card.

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 5 months ago

Yes! I was born on Fred's 25th birthday!

mjc2891 6 years, 5 months ago

i disapprove of everything phelps does as much as the next guy, but parading at his funeral makes us no different than him

Liberty275 6 years, 5 months ago

"These idiots have stretched the first amendment"

What part of "Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech... or the right of the people peaceably to assemble" did the congress and states not really mean?

Liberty275 6 years, 5 months ago

"I wonder if there will be a big parade with big signs, banners, and floats when the inevitable event occurs. "

Probably. Sadly, my eyesight is getting so bad I wouldn't be able to distinguish from more than 15 yards away a current phelps rally from the one his critics will surely throw.

Terry Sexton 6 years, 5 months ago

you have a great point there, mjc. When Phred checks out it'd be glorious if nobody marked the occasion at all.

Liberty275 6 years, 5 months ago

You really have to wonder if the politicians that write such legislation even know about the existence of the first amendment. If their anti-speech legislation gets slapped down enough times, maybe they'll get tired and stop. We can only hope.

Armored_One 6 years, 5 months ago

Don't gut the Constitution just to deal with these 'citizens', and I use the term as loosely as possible.

Take it to an arena that they will truly have to defend themselves.

They knowingly take children to the protest rallies, despite the fact that there is an omnipresent and ever increasing chance for violence. They are intentionally placing the children in their 'care' in harmful and potentially crippling and/or deadly situations.

Last I knew, that was the very definition of child endangerment. I wonder how many of the families will willingly surrender their children to this cause they are so dedicated towards?

Families with children in the same public schools as these children should also lodge formal protests to the school boards.

The neighborhood they live in should institute an association requiring amazingly high membership dues, while exempting all single family housing units, which would leave only them to pay the fees.

Hit them where it truly hurts. What we need are rubber Fred and Shirley halloween masks. I'm sure 40 openly gay men wearing them, and a like number of openly gay women wearing a Shirley mask would provoke a response.

They've been arrested a number of times, but not for anything truly interesting. Time to up the ante, so to speak.

mae 6 years, 5 months ago

I think it's about time that the WWII veterans stand up like the elder Japanese men are doing by cleaning up the nuclear site. Let the cops turn their heads and just have radio chatter whilst a cult disappears.

You have to ask yourself what that church has done for anyone. At least mormons give big strong families, true baptists are pillars of poor communities, everyone loves amish furniture, I could go on and on but they do not qualify as a church in any sense of the word.

The VFW should qualify as a church, so just apply for permit, show up at funerals and if they can lock their doors of their church services, so should we be able to for our funeral services.

Paul R Getto 6 years, 5 months ago

Religion, particularly the brand 'Rev" Phelps promotes, was invented partially because human groups were getting too big to control through the traditional methods: gossip and shunning. Ignoring them is the best approach.

Jeremiah Jefferson 6 years, 5 months ago


Fred Whitehead Jr. 6 years, 5 months ago

You will have to stand in a long, long line from Topeka (?) to Goodland.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 6 years, 5 months ago

Phelps and his band of "family" insane idiots has been the target of much publicity. And that is the real issue. It is no brainer that these vile spawn of the devil will continue their vicious crusade. But as one of you said above, they thrive on publicity.

I have not heard anything about them lately, and frankly do not want to. It would be appropriate justice to just let them alone, and let them drop dead in their tracks and totally ignore them. The only real issue here should be the child endangerment, but given the present state of Kansas and the toothless officials we have elected, the charges of child abuse and engangerment have not been filed. You proud of your law enforcement officials???

CHKNLTL 6 years, 5 months ago

I say when good ol' Freaky Fred himself is Dead, everyone should "peacefully picket" his funeral. Signs like "Fred is Dead God Bless This Day" "Burnin' Inferno Awaits for Haters" "Taken Away to Satan" will be appropriate for his memory.

verity 6 years, 5 months ago

Ignore. Ignore. Ignore.

Do not lower yourselves to their level. As has been said, they thrive on the attention. They're laughing all the way to the bank.

evilpenguin 6 years, 5 months ago

I remember seeing a bumper sticker that said "If my flag offends you, call 1-800-get-out-of-America". I wonder if Fred keeps calling and getting frustrated that there are too many numbers.

Paul R Getto 6 years, 5 months ago

In Topeka paper this morning. Phelps uses iPhone to "toast" Jobs Posted: October 6, 2011 - 11:22am

As is often the case with a celebrity whose death is in the news, Margie Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church immediately took to social media Thursday to comment on the passing of Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple who died Wednesday at age 56. To the surprise of no one, Phelps — whose family is notorious world-wide for its picketing at funerals of American soldiers whose death, they claim, is God punishing America for tolerating homosexuality — Tweeted that Jobs “taught his neighbor to sin” and that the WBC would picket his funeral. “Steve Jobs is in hell,” Phelps pronounced. But while Phelps’ typically harsh assessment was hardly surprising, what was unique was the way she chose to publish her comment. Phelps Tweeted her comment on an iPhone, one of Jobs’ most innovative contributions to the world of communications. Phelps’ “followers” immediately picked up on the apparent dichotomy — Margie using the tools of the “devil,” so it seemed — but the always defiant Phelps offered an explanation. “Rebels mad cuz I used iPhone to tell you Steve Jobs is in hell,” she wrote in a followup Tweet. “God created iPhone for that purpose!”

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