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Monday, July 15, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Gay-Hating Church Beats State Funeral Law

ST. LOUIS (CN) - The controversial Westboro Baptist Church has won another round in the name of free speech with the 8th Circuit ruling to block a Nebraska law that prohibits protests at funerals.

In granting the injunction, the court concluded that the government was unlikely to prove a significant interest in protecting funeral attendees. The ruling overturns a federal judge's decision to deny the injunction, sought by Shirley Phelps-Roper and the Westboro Baptist Church.

Westboro believes that military deaths are God's vengeance on America for accepting homosexuality. Westboro often protests military funerals holding up signs that say slogans such as "God Hates Fags" and "Thank God for Dead Soldiers." Phelps-Roper, a member of Westboro, claimed the Nebraska law violated her right to free speech. The Nebraska Funeral Picketing Law prohibited picketing within 300 feet from a funeral between an hour before until two hours after a funeral.

The three-judge panel cited precedent, Phelps-Roper v. Nixon, as a basis or its decision. In that case, which included the same plaintiff and similar accusations, the court ruled that the "home is different, and, in our view, unique" and that "other locations, even churches, [cannot] claim the same level of constitutionally protected privacy."

"We agree that the district court here was required to follow our Nixon precedent, which concluded that the government was unlikely to prove a significant interest in protecting funeral attendees," the unsigned decision states. "The Nixon panel cited our court's earlier refusal to extend application of the captive audience doctrine beyond the residential context."

The Oct. 20 decision is the latest in a growing line of legal victories for Westboro, which has challenged similar laws throughout the country.

In March, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-1 to throw out a $5 million award for the family of a soldier whose funeral drew protests. Nixon, decided by the 8th Circuit earlier this month, struck down a similar law passed in Manchester, Mo.

Judges Diana Murphy, C. Arlen Beam and Steven Colloton decided the latest case.

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