Manchester Reacts to Court's Ruling in Westboro Funeral Protest Case
A federal appeals court ruled the city can restrict funeral protests, including those held by Westboro Baptist Church at soldiers' funerals, from being held within 300 feet of a service. Manchester city leaders call the ruling a victory.
(Read Previous Story: Appeals Court Rules Manchester Can Restrict Funeral Protests)
Westboro church members are known for their anti-gay protests at the funerals of U.S. soldiers, claiming the soldiers' deaths are a result of America's tolerance for homosexuality.
Tuesday, Manchester City Attorney Patrick Gunn alerted city leaders in an email that the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision of the lower court and concluded that Manchester's ordinance relating to funeral protests is constitutional and enforceable.
(Read Tuesday's ruling in the PDF portion of this article.)
In 2010, the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC), with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, challenged the ordinance restricting protests or pickets at funerals. As previously reported by Town and Country - Manchester Patch, On Oct. 5, 2011, a three-judge panel ruled in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church and the ACLU, arguing Manchester’s ordinance violated Westboro's first amendment rights.
Tuesday that decision was reversed in Manchester's favor.
"As you can see, this opinion constitutes a complete victory for the City," Gunn stated in his email to city leaders. "While this judgment is subject to an appeal to the United States Supreme Court, I believe such would be highly unlikely since there is now no split in the various Circuits of the Federal Court, and I would have serious doubt that the United States Supreme Court would be inclined to consider the case on appeal under these circumstances."
The ruling is also being viewed as a victory among the city's aldermen.
"This is a big legal victory for Manchester and those communities that have been battling the Westboro Baptist Church funeral protests!" Alderman Michael Clement stated to Patch in an email.
"I think this is excellent news for residents in Manchester and hopefully other communities will follow suit and pass similar funeral protest ordinances," Manchester Alderman Paul Hamill also stated to Patch in an email.
In Gunn's email to city leaders he also stated that he thinks the ruling in the Manchester case will set a precedent for cities across the country and he thanked the city for "fighting the fight."
"I expect that the City's Ordinance may well become a prototype for use by many cities throughout the country and, to that extent, you should be comforted that you have now afforded a method whereby grieving families and loved ones of our fallen military may be protected from outlandish actions intended to cause further grief during their time of loss. I commend you for fighting the fight that needed to be fought," Gunn's email stated.
According to KMOV, Attorney Tony Rothert, with the American Civil Liberties Union, represents Westboro member Shirley Phelps-Roper in the case against the Manchester and said a "decision about whether to appeal will be made soon."
*EDITOR'S NOTE: Reporter Carlos Restrepo contributed to this report.
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