KANSAS CITY, Mo. (ABP) — A federal judge ruled Aug. 16 that a Missouri law banning protests at or near funerals is unconstitutional.
In 2006 Missouri passed a law prohibiting picketers within 300 feet of a memorial service. It was aimed at preventing members of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., from protesting at funerals of fallen soldiers.
Demonstrations by the group, which claims that war casualties result from God's judgment of America for toleration of sins like homosexuality, have prompted several states to enact laws aimed at protecting the dignity of military funerals.
U.S. District Judge Fernando Gaitan said Missouri's law violated free-speech rights protected under the First Amendment.
Striking down the law, Gaitan said while the church's speech "may be repugnant to listeners," it is "entitled to constitutional protection."
The judge said the state failed to show "significant government interest" in restricting the church's right to protest and that if applied broadly the law "could have the effect of criminalizing speech the mourners want to hear, including speech from counter-protestors."
Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.