KC passes ordinance to restrict funeral protests

Posted November 7, 2012 at 12:00 am

Northeast News
November 7,  2012 

Those protesting at funerals in Kansas City will now face tougher restrictions.

City Council members unanimously passed an ordinance Nov. 1, which states that protestors must stay back 300 feet, about the length of a football field, from any residence, church, cemetery, funeral home and synagogue. In addition, protestors are not allowed to protest one hour before or one hour after a funeral or burial service.

“It will certainly lessen the likelihood of violent confrontations,” City Council member John Sharp told Northeast News. “Most importantly, it will give the families of the deceased some measure of peace.”

Kansas City passed a similar ordinance in 1993, but repealed the ordinance in 1999 due to the Missouri Court of Appeals not upholding funeral picketing restrictions and the threat of litigation from the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan. Members of the Westboro Baptist Church are known for delivering anti-gay protests at military funerals.

“Every city in Missouri that had a funeral picketing ordinance was then contacted by the attorneys for the Phelps family (which heads the Westboro Baptist Church) and told, ‘If you don’t repeal your ordinance, we are going to sue. When we sue, we will win,’” said City Attorney Bill Geary.

However, on Oct. 16, 2012, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed its prior stance of invalidating funeral picketing regulations and approved restrictions enacted by the city of Manchester, Mo.

In the case of Phelps-Roper v. City of Manchester, the court stated, “It is unreasonable to expect a family or friend of the deceased to reschedule or forgo attending the funeral so as to avoid offensive picketing.”

Kansas City has now mirrored the Manchester ordinance and Geary said, “Our ordinance should not be subject to any challenge. Someone’s going to have to be very imaginative to find a new way to challenge this ordinance.”

Sharp, who’s seen the Westboro Baptist protests firsthand, said they’re not peaceful.

Sharp first saw the protests at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, where Morris Dees of the Southern Poverty Law Center gave a speech. In addition to monitoring the activity of violent white supremacist groups, the organization also protects the legislative rights of gay and lesbian students, Sharp said.

“Words aren’t adequate to describe how vicious these protests are,” Sharp said. “These protestors are very physically belligerent and scream at the top of their lungs. I was shocked at the hatred.”

Sharp added that passing the ordinance is “a matter of human decency” and recognizes the right to privacy for the families who are grieving.

City Council member Scott Taylor said the ordinance received unanimous support.

“It’s rare we have an ordinance that is unanimously supported so quickly,” Taylor said. “I hope the message is loud and clear to the Phelps family that this behavior will not be tolerated.”