PAPILLION, Neb. | A member of Kansas' Westboro Baptist Church agreed Monday to drop federal lawsuits against Nebraska authorities in exchange for a prosecutor dismissing charges against her stemming from her 2007 protest outside a soldier's funeral.
Shirley Phelps-Roper had been scheduled to face trial in Nebraska's Sarpy County Court on Monday on charges of disturbing the peace and negligent child abuse. The trial was postponed after Phelps-Roper's attorney and Sarpy County Attorney Lee Polikov reached the last-minute deal.
Both sides signed the agreement Monday, but it won't become official until a judge signs it. This is expected to happen Aug. 31.
Prosecutors accused Phelps-Roper of allowing her 10-year-old son to stand on an American flag during a protest outside the funeral of a National Guardsman in Bellevue, an Omaha suburb. Authorities say she also wore a flag as a skirt that dragged on the ground.
Phelps-Roper has maintained that the charges were not warranted because she was executing her right to free speech and had been in compliance with a Bellevue permit for the protest. She pleaded not guilty and twice asked unsuccessfully for the case to be dismissed.
Under the terms of the deal, the 52-year-old Phelps-Roper agreed to drop two federal lawsuits against Nebraska authorities related to her 2007 arrest.
The first lawsuit sought to declare both the state's flag-mutilation law and its funeral protest law unconstitutional. The flag-mutilation law had barred intentionally “casting contempt or ridicule” upon an American or Nebraska flag by mutilating, defacing, defiling, burning or trampling on it. The funeral protest law prohibits picketing within 300 feet of a funeral or memorial services.
Last month, a federal judge in Omaha rejected that lawsuit, but Phelps-Roper had planned an appeal. The city of Bellevue also agreed last month to pay $17,000 to Phelps-Roper to be dismissed from her lawsuit. A federal judge, with agreement from state Attorney General Jon Bruning, barred enforcement of the flag-mutilation law, indicating it was unconstitutional.
The second lawsuit accuses Polikov, as well as other prosecutors in the office, of violating Phelps-Roper's constitutional rights “by investigating her for protected expressive activity,” among other things.
Members of the Topeka-based church travel the country protesting at soldiers' funerals because they believe U.S. troop deaths are punishment for the nation's tolerance of homosexuality. Members often trample on, wear and display the American flag upside-down as part of their protests.