The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that protests outside military funerals are protected by the First Amendment.
Iowa has a law that requires protesters to stay at least 500 feet back from funeral services and burials. The law was passed in April 2006 because of a planned protest by members of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., at the funeral of an Ogden solider who was killed in Iraq.
Wednesday’s ruling does not make Iowa’s statute unconstitutional, said Geoff Greenwood, spokesman for the Iowa Attorney General’s Office.
The office does have some concerns that the ruling could raise future free speech issues, he said, because it says “it is necessary to evaluate all the circumstances of the speech, including what was said, where it was said, and how it was said.” A future case could be a closer call on the First Amendment depending on what someone said and how they said it, Greenwood said.
He said the state signed onto a brief in the case supporting a father who sued church members who protested at the funeral of his son, a Marine.
The Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church. Members of that church have protested at hundreds of military funerals, carrying signs with provocative messages like “Thank God for dead soldiers” and “God Hates the USA/Thank God for 9/11,” according to the Associated Press.
Several Westboro members protested outside City High School in October 2006 during the funeral of Sgt. Kampha Sourivong, 20, who was killed in Iraq. Church members also picketed the 2004 City High graduation when a student received a scholarship from a foundation honoring Matthew Shepard, a gay college student who was beaten to death in Wyoming.
Patty Sourivong, Kampha’s mother, said Thursday that she disagreed with the ruling. She also criticized the Westboro members, saying their right to free speech was being protected by soldier’s like her son who “gave the ultimate sacrifice.”
“They wouldn’t like it if it was their kid dying and we were out there with a sign protesting,” she said.
from Eastern Iowa Government
Supreme Court Allows Military Funeral Anti-Gay Protests
Tags: Westboro Baptist Church