ST. LOUIS (AP) – A Missouri town cannot enforce an ordinance banning peaceful picketing outside of funerals, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday.
The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a district court ruling in favor of members of Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., saying peaceful protests near funerals are protected by the First Amendment’s right to free speech.
The city of Manchester, Mo., a St. Louis suburb, adopted an ordinance in 2007 in response to activities by Westboro members, who frequently protest at funerals of soldiers with signs containing messages like “Thank God for dead soldiers” and “Thank God for 9/11.”
Church members claim the deaths are God’s punishment for American immorality and tolerance of homosexuality and abortion.
“These broad laws that prevent standing with a sign silently on a sidewalk do not further any government interest that would justify setting aside the First Amendment,” said Tony Rothert, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented Westboro members Shirley and Megan Phelps-Roper.
It wasn’t clear if Manchester would appeal.
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press