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Federal appeals court upholds city funeral protest ban

The US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit [official website] on Tuesday upheld [opinion, PDF] a municipality's ban on funeral protests. The court ruled that a ban on funeral protests in Manchester, Missouri, was a legitimate restriction on the First Amendment, calling it a "legitimate time, place, and manner regulation" and saying it gave protesters ample opportunities to express their views in other venues. The challenge to the ordinance came from members of the Westboro Baptist Church [JURIST news archive] who routinely protest the funerals of soldiers and claim that US soldiers killed in combat are God's retribution for American tolerance of homosexuality.

Westboro's challenge relied heavily on the US Supreme Court's 2011 decision in Snyder [text] which held that funeral protests were a valid exercise of the First Amendment. In Snyder v. Phelps the court ruled [JURIST report] that the protests are protected speech because they are public discourse which speak to broad issues including the "political and moral conduct of the United States and its citizens." It is expected that this most recent ruling will be appealed to the Supreme Court.

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