A federal appeals court has ruled that a St. Louis suburb can
enforce an ordinance designed to prevent the demonstrations of a
small organization in Kansas that calls itself a church. But one
attorney warns about the possible effects this rule could have on
The Manchester, Missouri, ordinance is directed at the
Topeka-based Westboro Baptist Church. Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel tells
OneNewsNow members have gained notoriety for conducting protests at
the funerals of soldiers killed in action, claiming the deaths are
God's punishment for America's immorality and tolerance of
homosexuality and abortion.
"What they do is absolutely offensive. Certainly it
shocks the conscience," Staver recognizes. "On the other hand, you
have this ordinance, and it's not going to be just simply limited
in terms of the case law precedent to protest around funerals. It
could also be protests around abortion clinics. It could be other
kinds of protests as well that people do not want to see or
The Constitution is designed to protect speech, he points out --
even when others disagree with it.
"I think we have the Constitution on the one hand, and we've got
a local municipality trying to deal with a problematic situation
that happens infrequently on the other hand, and that, I think,
[can] erode the First Amendment," the attorney warns. "I think this
particular case has the potential to ultimately eat away at our
California recently approved a law that prohibits demonstrators
from protesting within 300 feet of a funeral site one hour before
the funeral starts and one hour after it is over (see
earlier story). Beginning in January, those who violate that
law face fines up to $1,000 and six months in jail.
The American Civil Liberties Union represented Westboro member
Shirley Phelps-Roper in the lawsuit and says a decision on an
appeal will be made soon.