Westboro Baptist Church: Kansas House Passes Funeral Picketing Bill

TOPEKA, Kan. — Legislation prompted by the Rev. Fred Phelps and his followers protesting at funerals of soldiers killed in combat was passed unanimously Thursday by the House.

The 125-0 vote returns the measure to the Senate to consider changes imposed by the House, particularly expanding the buffer zone around funerals and removing what senators considered safeguards against encroaching on freedom of speech. The final version probably will be written by negotiators for the two chambers.

The House version says anybody picketing or protesting a funeral can’t be closer than 300 yards one hour before, during and two hours after the service. It also makes it unlawful to obstruct or prevent the intended uses of public streets and sidewalks or other public space while protesting.

The bill passed by senators forbids protests within 100 yards of the service for the same period. The Senate exempted from the buffer zone streets, sidewalks and other public spaces because the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled these area are public venues. But the House struck that language.

“I liked what they did, if it’s constitutional, but I want to hear the rationale,” Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, R-Independence, said of the House’s version.

Westboro Baptist Church
The Westboro Baptist Church is a hate group masquerading as a Christian church. Led by Fred Phelps, members of this church target homosexuals with messages of hate.

The group’s extremist views and despicable behavior mark it as a cult of Christianity

Schmidt, an attorney, said the Senate included its exceptions for public spaces because, “We thought it was necessary so the bill wouldn’t run afoul of the Constitution.”

Under the bill, violators can be punished by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

On Wednesday, Shirley Phelps-Roper, Phelps’ daughter, promised a lawsuit over the 300-yard restriction.

“The U.S. Supreme Court has spoken on this issue, and they can’t put us out of sight and sound of our targeted audience,” she said. “If they don’t like what they see, they need to drink a frosty mug of shut-the-hell-up and avert their eyes.”

During Wednesday’s debate, some lawmakers, including Rep. Nancy Kirk, expressed concerns about passing a bill that will be targeted for legal challenge.

“I don’t want us taken to court and lose on something that has already been pretty well established by the Supreme Court,” said Kirk, D-Topeka.

As to whether the bill can pass constitutional muster, Rep. Mike O’Neal, R-Hutchinson, said, “I’m willing to try it.”

Current state law says only that it’s illegal to picket “before or about” a funeral service.

While the measure doesn’t single out Phelps or his followers at the independent Westboro Baptist Church, lawmakers say it was prompted by recent protests by them at soldiers’ funerals around the nation.

Phelps and his followers contend the deaths are God’s vengeance for the U.S. harboring homosexuals and their protests are a form of religious expression. For years, Phelps and his followers protested funerals of AIDS victims but have shifted to soldiers.

Kansas is among 21 states this year working on legislation to restrict protest activities around funerals. Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Wisconsin this year put such laws on the books.

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
AP, via TheKansasCityChannel.com, USA
Mar. 30, 2006

Religion News Blog posted this on Saturday April 1, 2006.
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