Nation - Nebraska Injunction on funeral protest ban rejected

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) -- A federal judge has rejected a request to keep Nebraska authorities from enforcing a state law that prohibits picketing within 300 feet of a funeral or memorial service.

Shirley Phelps-Roper, a member of the Westboro Baptist Church that regularly protests at the funerals of fallen soldiers, had asked for a preliminary injunction as part of her lawsuit against the state. The suit challenges the constitutionality of Nebraska's funeral protest law, as well as its ban on flag mutilation.

The lawsuit followed Phelps-Roper's arrest during a 2007 protest by Westboro Baptist Church members at the funeral of a National Guardsman in Bellevue. Authorities said she let her then-10-year-old son stand on an American flag and that she wore a flag as a skirt that dragged on the ground.

Members of the Kansas-based church believe U.S. troop deaths are punishment for the nation's tolerance of homosexuality.

In her ruling Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Laurie Smith Camp said that the Nebraska funeral picketing law protects family members attending services, while leaving ample alternatives for Phelps-Roper's protests that are protected by the First Amendment.

Phelps-Roper said she plans to appeal to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

"Meanwhile, I get to go to Plattsmouth, Neb., tomorrow to a soldier's funeral," she said Monday. "I'm still free, and I have a car, and I have my loved ones here who are going with me .... to do our duty to a nation whose destruction is imminent."

Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning called the Westboro Baptist protests "disgusting," and said the state law is narrowly tailored to protect grieving family members while not trampling on the constitutional protection of protesters.

"The difference is, if they're on a street corner, I can continue to walk by," Bruning said. "If they're at my child's funeral, I have no choice but to listen."

In April, Smith Camp had ruled that Phelps-Roper could proceed with her lawsuit challenging the funeral protest law.

Phelps-Roper, 52, is scheduled to stand trial in August in Sarpy County Court on charges of violating the flag law, disturbing the peace, contributing to the delinquency of a minor and negligent child abuse, stemming from the 2007 protest.

Published: Wed, Jun 23, 2010

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