St. Charles County can ban members of the Westboro Baptist Church and others from protesting outside of funerals. That was the finding of the US District Court in St. Louis Tuesday, which dismissed a lawsuit filed by members of the controversial Kansas Church.
The county ordinance prohibits picketing an hour before or an hour after, at or near funerals violated in unincorporated areas. The ordinance defines picketing at a funeral as “Protest activities engaged in by a person or persons located within three hundred (300) feet of the premises of a cemetery, mortuary, church or other place of worship or other location during, and which target, a funeral.” Those who do not follow the ordinance will be charged with a misdemeanor. If convicted, the individual(s) will be charged with a maximum $1,000 fine.
Shirley Phelps-Roper and Megan Phelps-Roper had sued shortly after the ordinance was passed in Dec. 2010, claiming that enforcement of the ordinance violated their First Amendment free speech, religious liberty and assembly rights. They also claimed that the ordinance violates Missouri’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act. According to the judgment, the plaintiffs assert that “they picket near certain funerals, including those of American soldiers, to publish their beliefs that God is punishing America for its failure to obey God’s Word...”
On Aug. 20, the United States District Court in St. Louis granted a motion dismissing the lawsuit.
St. Charles County Councilman Joe Brazil was the original sponsor of the ordinance. “I think it is a great victory for us,” said Brazil. “Families deserve privacy and the right to grieve the loss of their loved one without having hateful and disrespectful protest activities nearby.”
The ruling in favor of St. Charles County came after the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld similar funeral restrictions for the city of Manchester and the state of Missouri.
“Families have the right to mourn their loved ones peacefully and privately,” said St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann. “I hope this ruling sends a message and helps to set more precedents.”
The Ku Klux Klan is challenging a new Desloge, Missouri ordinance that bans them from distributing flyers in city streets.
A judge has already struck down a city wide ban on distributing leaflets that the Klan had fought with the help of the ACLU. Tony Rothert, legal director for the ACLU's Eastern District of Missouri says the Supreme Court has long held that handing out leaflets is protected by the First Amendment.
Rothert says that neither he, nor the ACLU agrees with the KKK`s message, just their right to share it. "We think it’s important for all Americans that they be able to distribute literature to get their ideas out in peaceful ways and let the market place of ideas debate who’s right,” he said.
Rother has suggested the that the city's new ordinance is an attempt to get around the earlier judges ruling.
Desloge city administrator Greg Camp says that's not true. Camp says, it's never been a question of First Amendment rights. "Regardless of the message, we have to respect the fact that everyone has the right to free speech," he said. "The concern is for people being in the road."
Camp says the city consulted with an attorney before crafting the new measure, and they believe it will hold up in court.
The city has until Monday (May 6th) to respond to the ACLU's new complaint.
Desloge is about 60 miles south of St. Louis.