January 26, 2007
Jefferson City, Mo. — Federal District Judge Fernando Gaitan today denied a request to keep Missouri officials from enforcing the state's funeral protest law. The law - passed in 2006 and named after Spc. Edward Lee Myers, a Missouri soldier killed in Iraq - sets criminal restrictions on picketing funeral locations. Judge Gaitan found in favor of Attorney General Jay Nixon, who was named as a defendant and whose office defended the law.
“There has to be a line drawn and enforced against hate, particularly when that hate victimizes the families of those who sacrificed their lives for our country,” Nixon said. “I am gratified that Judge Gaitan has agreed with us that this law can be enforced.”
The lawsuit was filed in federal court for the Western District of Missouri by Shirley Phelps-Roper, a member of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., and the daughter of the pastor there, Fred Phelps. Members of the church - primarily members of the extended Phelps family - have staged protests at funerals across the country, including those of American military personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Phelps-Roper sued Attorney General Nixon and other defendants, asking that the court issue a preliminary injunction preventing them from enforcing the law, 578.501, RSMo. She also asked the court to find both 578.501, RSMo., and 578.02 RSMo., unconstitutional.
Judge Gaitan denied the plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction, finding that the plaintiff was not likely to succeed on the merits because the statute was content neutral, that Missouri had asserted a significant interest, and that the statute was narrowly tailored. The judge also declined to find that the statute was overly broad or unduly vague for the purposes of the motion for a preliminary injunction.