Nebraska funeral-picket law upheld
OMAHA, Neb. — A federal appeals court Friday agreed with a lower court’s ruling upholding a Nebraska law requiring picketers to stay at least 500 feet from funerals — the latest decision in a yearslong legal dispute that could end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals said that all speakers, including members of Westboro Baptist Church, have a constitutionally protected right to express their beliefs at funerals. But the appeals court also said those rights “are not absolute and some time, place, and/or manner restrictions are allowed” to protect the privacy rights of funeral mourners.
The church protests at funerals throughout the country using anti-gay chants and signs because it believes that God is punishing the U.S. for defending a nation that tolerates homosexuality.
Shirley Phelps-Roper, a prominent member of the Topeka, Kan.-based church, sued in 2009. She argued, among other things, that the Nebraska law is selectively enforced since church members are often kept farther from funeral services than counter-protesters.
But the appeals court agreed with the lower court that the Patriot Guard Riders and other attendees were invited participants, not protesters.