Military Funeral Protests Case Presented To Federal Appeals Court

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The First Amendment and street protests both were on the docket of the Federal Appeals Court in St. Louis. The case involves the controversial Westboro Baptist Church and laws preventing its members from protesting at military funerals.

Street theatre and the First Amendment were the topics Monday afternoon as the court considered whether cities can outlaw protests at service member's funerals.

On one side, there is the Westboro Baptist Church of Wichita, Kansas and on the other, the St. Louis County suburb of Manchester.

Manchester outlawed protests at funerals in 2007. The ordinance was aimed at Westboro Baptist, which travels the country protesting at military funerals. Westboro members believe military deaths are god's punishment for the US tolerating homosexuals. The Manchester ordinance outlaws such protests within 300 feet of any funeral home the day of a funeral.

The ACLU sued Manchester and seven other Missouri cities with similar ordinances, arguing that the protests are political speech and are therefore totally protected by the First Amendment. A lower federal court agreed.

But now the case is before the Federal Appeals Court. And in a demonstration of just how important this First Amendment case is, all 11 appeals court judges heard the case inside the Eagleton Courthouse while protestors marched outside.

No word on when the appeals court may rule in this case.