Westboro Baptist Church Protests Win Again - Civil Rights Law - U.S. Eighth Circuit
U.S. Eighth Circuit - The FindLaw 8th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Westboro Baptist Church Protests Win Again

Westboro Baptist Church protests can continue in Manchester, Missouri.

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Wednesday that Manchester cannot enforce a local ordinance banning protests near funerals.

Manchester adopted the ordinance in response to Westboro Baptist Church protests. The group, mainly comprised of members of the Phelps-Roper family, protests at soldiers' funerals with signs containing messages like "Thank God for dead soldiers" and "Thank God for 9/11," reports the AP.

Church members claim the deaths are God's punishment for America's evil ways.

The Manchester ordinance prohibited "picketing or other protest activities ...within three hundred (300) feet of any residence, cemetery, funeral home, church, synagogue, or other establishment during or within one (1) hour before or one (1) hour after the conducting of any actual funeral or burial service at that place."

In its review of the ordinance, the district court concluded that the ordinance was a content based regulation. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, finding instead that it was a regulation of places where speech many occur.

The district court also held that the Manchester ordinance could not survive because it was not narrowly tailored to serve a significant governmental interest.

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the district court that Manchester had no significant interest "in protecting funeral attendees from unwanted communication." It reasoned that Olmer v. City of London had "unequivocally refused to recognize the government's significant interest in protecting unwilling listeners outside the residential context."

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Attorney Tony Rother, who represented Westboro Baptist church members in the case, said, "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," reports CBS St. Louis.

Considering the group's success in court so far, do you think there are legal grounds under which the Westboro Baptist Church protests could be limited?

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