Legislation makes protests at military funerals illegal

Group planning picket despite newly enacted Missouri law

Joplin Globe/March 2, 2006
By Susan Redden

Anderson, MO. -- Members of Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., plan to picket the funeral of Army Pfc. Christopher L. Marion on Saturday in Anderson, and a new law signed Wednesday by Gov. Matt Blunt won't stop them, a church spokeswoman said.

Marion, 20, of Pineville, was one of four soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division who were killed last week by a roadside bomb in Iraq. Funeral services are set for 1 p.m. Saturday at Ozark Funeral Home in Anderson.

Shirley Roper-Phelps, an attorney and daughter of church founder the Rev. Fred Phelps, called the new law "impotent" and said lawmakers who passed it "violated their oath to the Constitution."

She said the group protested Wednesday in Jefferson City, when the bill was being signed, and that the measure will have no impact on their plans to picket at Marion's service.

Followers of the church have protested at funerals of troops killed in Iraq, saying the deaths are God's way of punishing America for tolerating homosexuality.

Phelps-Roper said the law is similar to one in effect in Kansas. "It won't stop anything," she said.

The law bars pickets and protests "in front of or about any church, cemetery or funeral establishment" between one hour before the start of a funeral and one hour after the service.

"The Supreme Court says 'before or about' means directly in front," Phelps-Roper said. "We'll be across the street or down the street. We'll keep a respectful distance and put our signs in the air."

Spence Jackson, a spokesman for Blunt, said Phelps' group "would be well-advised to adhere to this new law, or face the consequences."

He said the law "is in effect, and it prohibits the kind of unruly disruption that this group has caused at past funerals honoring military personnel."

Blunt on Wednesday praised the Missouri General Assembly for passing the law, which was adopted in response to a protest in August 2005 in St. Joseph at the funeral of Spc. Edward Myers, who was killed in Iraq.

The legislation contained an emergency clause, and it took effect Thursday, Feb. 23, when Sen. Michael Gibbons, as acting governor, signed the bill with the governor's consent. Gibbons, the Senate president pro tem, filled in while Blunt was out of state. Blunt followed up with a ceremonial signing Wednesday.

"The families of our military heroes should be able to mourn the loss of their loved one in peace," Blunt said.

Individuals who violate the law are guilty of a Class B misdemeanor on the first offense and a Class A misdemeanor on subsequent offenses.

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