The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis ruled Thursday that Shirley Phelps-Roper is entitled to a preliminary injunction while the constitutionality of statutes restricting where members of Topeka-based Westboro Baptist Church can picket is reviewed.
The appeals court’s decision reverses an earlier judgment by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri that denied Phelps-Roper’s’ motion for a preliminary injunction.
Phelps-Roper said Thursday that the statutes in question are murky when it comes to defining the distance church members can picket from funerals, using words like “in front of” and “about.” Because of that language, she said law enforcement officers and other officials are left open to interpret how the statutes should be enforced.
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Westboro Baptist Church members believe God is punishing the United States for its tolerance of homosexuality by killing Americans, including soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
On Aug. 5, Phelps-Roper and other Westboro Baptist members picketed and protested near the location of the funeral of Army Spc. Edward Lee Myers in St. Joseph, Mo.
In response to the protest, Missouri enacted statutes that criminalize picketing “in front or about” a funeral location or procession and within 300 feet of a funeral location or procession.
The district court denied Phelps-Roper’s original motion, saying she didn’t demonstrate she was likely to succeed on its merits, didn’t demonstrate irreparable harm and the public interest weighed in favor of upholding the challenged statutory provisions, according to U.S. Appeals Court records.
Phelps-Roper said the higher court concluded she demonstrated a fair chance of prevailing on the merits of her claim and will suffer “irreparable injury” if the preliminary injunction isn’t issued.
“The reason they say irreparable injury is because it’s a First Amendment right,” she said, of the group’s picketing.
The appeals court also stated, “The injunction will not cause substantial harm to others, and the public is served by the preservation of constitutional rights.”