Ban On Picketing At Funerals Upheld By Appeals Court

A federal appeals court has upheld an Ohio law that limits picketing at funerals, preventing an anti-gay church from protesting at military funerals.

Westboro Baptist Church, a militantly anti-gay Kansas congregation, argued in its appeal that an Ohio law restricting protests within 300 feet of a burial or funeral services is unconstitutional.

The Rev. Fred Phelps believes God is punishing America for accepting homosexuality by killing soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. He and other congregation members argued it is their free speech right to carry signs at military funerals with messages such as, “Thank God for dead soldiers.”

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the church’s argument, finding that the law “serves an important governmental interest” and is reasonable.

“Friends and family of the deceased should not be expected to opt-out from attending their loved one’s funeral or burial service,” Senior Judge Richard F. Suhrheinrich wrote in the court’s opinion in Phelps-Roper v. Strickland. “Nor can funeral attendees simply ‘avert’ their eyes’ to avoid exposure to disruptive speech at a funeral or burial service. The mere presence of a protestor is sufficient to inflict the harm.”