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Wednesday, May 22, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

County Bars Protests at Funerals

ST. CHARLES, Mo. (CN) - The St. Charles County Council passed an ordinance prohibiting protests near funerals -- an action sure to draw challenges from the gay-hating fundamentalist Baptist church it is aimed at, and the ACLU, the perennial defender of unpopular causes.

The Council claimed that the law, approved by 6-0 vote, balances the competing interests of family members to mourn peacefully and privately, and of picketers' free speech.

The law bans picketing within 300 feet of a funeral or burial site from 1 hour before until 1 hour after the observance.

The law differs from a Missouri law that was declared unconstitutional, which banned protests on streets and highways and was ruled overly broad because it pertained to everyone attending a funeral.

St. Charles County's law is patterned after a Nebraska law that has withstood a court challenge so far. In that challenge, in June, a federal judge denied a request for a preliminary injunction against the law, saying that family members at a funeral are a captive audience and are particularly vulnerable to protest. That challenge is still pending.

The ACLU plans to sue to block the ordinance. Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU's eastern Missouri chapter, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the organization "has no choice but to challenge it to protect our client's First Amendment rights."

The ACLU represents the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas. Westboro members claim to believe that God kills U.S. soldiers because the United States tolerates homosexuals. Church members have picketed military funerals across the country.

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