ST. LOUIS (CN) – Still flush from their victory in the Supreme Court in March, Westboro Baptist Church congregants convinced the 8th Circuit to strike down a Missouri law that bans peaceful picketing outside of funerals.
A three-member appellate upheld a federal judge’s ruling, which found that peaceful protests near funerals are protected by the First Amendment’s right to free speech. Westboro, based in Topeka, Kan., has been outspoken in its views against homosexuality. Members of the church often picket military funerals, espousing their belief that the deaths of U.S. soldiers represent God’s vengeance against America for accepting homosexuality.
The city of Manchester, 20 miles west of St. Louis, adopted a law in 2007 aimed at stopping Westboro’s ability to picket a funeral within its jurisdiction. It was modeled after a funeral-protest statute in Ohio that higher courts upheld. But the 8th Circuit found in favor of Westboro leaders Shirley Phelps-Roper and Megan Phelps-Roper.
“We agree that the Phelps-Ropers had standing to challenge the ordinance,” the ruling states. “Manchester’s ordinance specifically targets the Phelps-Ropers’ conduct … and Manchester did not disavow intentions to enforce it. … The Phelps-Ropers thus have ‘some reason in fearing prosecution’ under the ordinance.”
It wasn’t clear if Manchester would appeal. Other courts around the country have consistently struck down similar laws. In March, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, 8-1, to throw out a $5 million award to the family of a soldier whose funeral drew protest from Westboro.
The three-judge panel included Diana E. Murphy, Lavenski Smith and Chief U.S. District Judge Linda R. Reade, sitting by designation from Cedar Rapids, Iowa.