ST. LOUIS (CN) – The 8th Circuit has temporarily blocked the enforcement of a Missouri law that makes it criminal for religious fundamentalists and others to picket at funerals.
Ruling that the picketers might have a viable free-speech claim, the circuit reversed a ruling denying Shirley Phelps-Roper‘s motion for a preliminary injunction.
Phelps-Roper belongs to the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., whose members claim that God allows soldiers to be killed as the nation’s punishment for tolerating the “sin of homosexuality.” She says she believes it’s her religious duty to picket funerals to spread her church’s message.
On Aug. 5, 2005, Phelps-Roper and fellow church members picketed the funeral of Army Spc. Edward Lee Myers in St. Joseph, Mo. The state responded by passing the “Spc. Edward Lee Myers’ Law,” which makes it a misdemeanor to picket “in front or about” a funeral location or procession within an hour before and after the funeral.
U.S. District Judge Fernando Gaitan upheld the law, saying it preserves the dignity of memorial services and protects the friends and family members of the deceased from added distress.
The circuit issued a preliminary injunction barring the enforcement of the statute, concluding that Phelps-Roper “has a fair chance of proving any interest the state has in protecting funeral mourners from unwanted speech is outweighed by the First Amendment right to speech.” See ruling.