Tuesday, August 15, 2017

8th Circuit Upholds Nebraska's Funeral Picketing Law

In Phelps-Roper v. Ricketts, (8th Cir., Aug. 11, 2017), the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Nebraska's Funeral Picketing Law against both facial and as-applied challenges brought by members of the Westboro Baptist Church.  WBC has historically picketed military funerals-- which its members consider "patriotic hoopola"-- with anti-gay messages and other messages about national policies that WBC considers opposed to Biblical teachings.  The challenged Nebraska law prohibits picketing within 500 feet of a cemetery, mortuary, or church beginning one hour before and ending two hours after the start of a funeral. In upholding the law, the court concluded:
The rights of all speakers, including Phelps-Roper and others at funerals, to publically express their beliefs are protected by the First Amendment—but are not absolute....  Mourners, because of their vulnerable physical and emotional conditions, have a privacy right not to be intruded upon during their time of grief.... NFPL strikes a balance between these competing interests of law-abiding speakers and unwilling listeners in a way that is not facially unconstitutional. We likewise find that Phelps-Roper has failed to demonstrate that the NFPL was applied to her in an unconstitutional manner.
Omaha World-Herald reports on the decision.