Westboro Baptist Church cult free to continue its despicable behavior
Washington (CNN) — Missouri’s tight restrictions on protests and picketing outside military funerals were tossed out by a federal judge Monday, over free speech concerns.
A small Kansas church had brought suit over its claimed right to loudly march outside the burials and memorial services of those killed in overseas conflicts. The state legislature had passed a law to keep members of the Topeka-based Westboro Baptist Church from demonstrating within 300 feet of such private services.
Church members, led by pastor Fred Phelps, believe God is punishing the United States for “the sin of homosexuality” through events including soldiers’ deaths. Members have traveled the country, shouting at grieving family members at funerals and displaying such signs as “Thank God for Dead Soldiers,” “God Blew Up the Troops” and “AIDS Cures Fags.”
The Supreme Court last year had granted a temporary injunction blocking enforcement of the law until it could be challenged. The justices will hear a similar challenge this fall involving the same church.
Judge Fernando Gaitan in a 19-page order, dismissed the state legislation.
The laws, said the Kansas City-based judge, “could have the effect of criminalizing speech the mourners want to hear, including speech from counter-protesters to plaintiffs’ [the Westboro Church’s] message. As the law burdens substantially more speech than is necessary to further the government’s interest, [the law] violates the free speech clause of the First Amendment.”
According to a legal brief it filed with the Supreme Court, church members believe it is their duty to protest and picket at certain events, including funerals, to promote their religious message: “That God’s promise of love and heaven for those who obey him in this life is counterbalanced by God’s wrath and hell for those who do not obey him.”
The congregation is made up mostly of Phelps and his family. The pastor has 13 children, and at least 54 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. He described himself as an “old-time” gospel preacher in a CNN interview in 2006, saying, “You can’t preach the Bible without preaching the hatred of God.”
The church has also protested at least since 1993 at funerals of gay persons, those who died from AIDS, and others whose lifestyles are deemed sinful but were touted as heroic upon their death.
Missouri officials said the appeals court improperly balanced the free speech rights of both sides in favor of the church.
The case is Phelps-Roper v. Koster (06-4156-cv).