2 years ago today, in a precursor to the landmark 2011 United States Supreme Court case, Snyder v. Phelps, the United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri invalidated 2 state laws that sought to ban protests near funerals, according to jurist.org.
The Missouri state laws at issue were enacted in response to highly publicized funeral protests by the always controversial Topeka, Kansas based Westboro Baptist Church. One of the state laws banned protests within 300 feet of any funeral location, while the other prohibited protests within a 1 hour hour window both before and after funerals.
District Court Judge Fernando Gaitan determined that the two laws banning protests at funerals violated the First Amendment because the laws failed to satisfy strict scrutiny, the most searching form of judicial scrutiny in Supreme Court jurisprudence. Gaitan concluded that the state had failed to show how restrictions on protests were narrowly tailored to serve a compelling government interest and were, therefore, unconstitutional.
Right to Peacefully Protest Matters of Public Concern
The following year, the United States Supreme Court determined that the First Amendment encompassed the right to peacefully protest near military funerals regarding matters of public concern. In Snyder v. Phelps, members of the Westboro Baptist Church picketed near the funeral of Albert Snyder's son in Westminster, Maryland who had died in military service to protest their disagreement with homosexuals in the military.
In that case the Supreme Court determined that Snyder was barred from bringing state law tort claims such as intentional infliction of emotional distress against the radical church group because among other things their protests were not specifically directed at Snyder and his son and, thus, were protected by the First Amendment.
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