Missouri House panel hears bills to limit funeral protests

JEFFERSON CITY | Missouri lawmakers are trying once again to balance free-speech rights against the privacy and dignity owed to funerals for service members.

A House committee heard three bills this afternoon the restrict protests at funerals.

All three update existing law — which has been cited as unconstitutional — that attempts to prevent protests by the Westboro Baptist Church, the Topeka-based group that uses public demonstrations to broadcast its anti-homosexuality views.

The measures will be combined into a single bill that bars protesters from picketing within 300 feet of a cemetery, mortuary or church beginning one hour before a funeral begins until two hours after it begins. Violations would be misdemeanors.

Lawmakers on the House General Laws Committee were near-unanimous in support for the measure, although some questioned whether it could pass constitutional muster.

A representative for the American Civil Liberties Union opposed the bill, suggesting it indeed overstepped the constitutional confines established by the federal courts.