Can freedom of speech go too far? Probably not, but how many people believe the followers of Westboro Baptist Church should be allowed to disrupt funerals?
A federal judge ruled Monday that Missouri laws restricting protests near funerals are unconstitutional. Missouri legislators passed two laws in 2006 in response to protests at service members’ funerals by members of the Topeka church. The church contends the deaths are God’s punishment for the U.S. tolerating homosexuality.
U.S. District Judge Fernando Gaitan ruled the laws violate the right of free speech guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. Fortunately, Kansas’ Attorney General has made this statement:
“Kansans can be confident that if the Phelps family attempts to use this ruling in Missouri as a way to attack our law I will vigorously defend our right to protect Kansas families,” said Six. “I have no doubt that Kansas’ law is constitutional.
“When Kansans are in mourning at a funeral, their right to grieve must be protected. The Constitution does not protect those who attempt to hijack solemn proceedings in order to spread hateful ideas.”
Gaitan concluded Missouri officials did not demonstrate the protest restrictions served a significant government interest nor that they had been narrowly tailored to prevent the harm of interruptions of funeral services. The judge wrote he was sympathetic to the argument people attending a funeral deserve some protection but noted a federal appeals court previously rejected that argument.
Court documents indicate members of the Kansas church say they have held more than 42,000 pickets, including more than 500 at funerals.
“Those laid to rest will no longer have the right to be mourned and remembered in an environment of peace, respect and compassion,” said Senate President Pro Tem Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, Mo. “This ruling is a tragedy to those who die in service while protecting the rights we enjoy here at home.”
That is definitely the case. We won’t say “Shut up!,” but the Phelps’ followers should be quieted.
— Stu Butcher