Eighth Circuit Agrees to Review Westboro Funeral Protests Case

By Dyanna Quizon, Esq. on December 16, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Eight Circuit Court of Appeals has agreed to hold an en banc hearing on its October decision in favor of funeral protestors from the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church.

The Eighth Circuit had previously ruled that the Missouri town of Manchester could not enforce a local ordinance banning protests near funerals. The town had adopted the ordinance in response to protests from the Westboro Baptist Church.

Members of the notorious congregation have received national media coverage for protesting at soldier's funerals with signs stating "Thank God for dead soldiers" and "Thank God for 9/11" because their deaths reportedly represent God's punishment for America's tolerance of homosexuality.

Although the district court had concluded that the ordinance was a content-based regulation, a three-judge panel of the Eighth Circuit found that it was instead content neutral.

The Eighth Circuit, however, did agree with the lower court that the ordinance was not narrowly-tailored to serve a significant government interest, finding that one of its previous decisions "unequivocally refused to recognize the government's significant interest in protecting unwilling listeners outside the residential context."

Thus far, the Westboro Baptist Church has had a pretty good track record in the Eighth Circuit. One of its members, Shirley Phelps-Roper, won an injunction to halt enforcement of Nebraska's Funeral Picketing Law based on the Eighth Circuit's ruling in the City of Manchester case.

The constitutionality of the funeral picketing law will once again rest on the Eighth Circuit's review of the Manchester case. We'll see how the inflammatory group does against a full panel of Eighth Circuit judges. However, we don't suggest they use the following argument:

"The 8th Circuit has an excellent opportunity to remind the nation that you have a remedy if you see a picket sign you don't like: avert your eyes, and stop whining," said Westboro attorney Margie Phelps.

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