A federal appeals court has ruled that efforts by the city of Manchester to limit protests by the Westboro Baptist Church is constitutional, despite the fact that it limits free speech.
The ordinance, which has been amended several times, was first adopted in 2007. The final version limits picketing or other protest activities within 300 feet of the site of any funeral or burial service within an hour before or an hour after the ceremony. There are no restrictions on picketing during processions.
Two members of the Westboro Baptist Church sued in 2009, saying the ordinance had chilled their plans to protest funerals in Manchester. In 2011, a panel for the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals issued an injunction, saying that although the ordinance was content-neutral, the government had no significant interest in protecting unwilling listeners outside the home.
The ruling issued today by the full court disagreed with that analysis. "We conclude," the justices wrote, "that mourners attending a funeral or burial service share a privacy interest analogous to those the Supreme Court has recognized for individuals in their homes."
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