ST. LOUIS (CN) – Missouri cannot enforce a state law that limits protests near funerals until the law is determined to be constitutional, the 8th Circuit ruled. The law was enacted in 2006 in response to Westboro Baptist Church members who picket soldiers’ funerals. The Topeka church claims that God let the soldiers be killed for the country’s sins, which include homosexuality, divorce and remarriage, idolatry and greed.
Missouri’s 2006 law made it a crime to picket at anyplace a funeral is held for an hour before until an hour after the funeral.
Westboro member Shirley Phelps-Roper sued in 2006, seeking to have the law declared unconstitutional and prohibiting the state from enforcing it. Phelps-Roper appealed after U.S. District Judge Fernando Gaitan in Kansas City found that Phelps-Roper did not have a strong possibility of winning the suit and would not be irreparably harmed if the law was enforced.
But the 8th Circuit sided with Phelps-Roper, finding a likelihood that Missouri’s law is overbroad to the point that Phelps-Roper would win on the constitutionality question. The appeals court did not rule on whether the law is constitutional, only on the injunction.
The issue is headed back to district court, but Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon said he plans to ask the entire 8th Circuit to hear an appeal.
The federal government and 42 other states have adopted similar measures. Phelps-Roper said Westboro is fighting each measure and predicts the case will end in the U.S. Supreme Court. She said church members picket funerals in every state and stage protests almost daily.