Local News Spotlight

Kansas City to ponder funeral picketing ban

Updated: 2012-10-24T15:45:41Z

By CHRISTINE VENDEL

The Kansas City Star

Kansas City was among the first in the nation to ban picketing at funerals in the early 1990s, but the city repealed the ordinance because of concerns about its constitutionality.

On Thursday, City Council members plan to introduce another ordinance aimed at keeping members of the Westboro Baptist Church and their protests away from funerals in the city limits. The ordinance is expected to be heard by the council’s public safety committee next Wednesday.

Kansas City’s ordinance will replicate “word for word,” a Manchester, Mo., ordinance deemed constitutional last week by members of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The court found that the ordinance met constitutional muster because it was narrowly written and offered picketers ample opportunities to express their views in other ways.

Manchester’s ordinance, which requires protesters to stay at least 300 feet from a funeral home, cemetery or house of worship during the service and for an hour before and after it, was modeled on an Ohio law that a different appeals court found constitutional in 2008.

Members of the Topeka-based church often picket at military members’ funerals, saying that their deaths are an expression of God’s wrath at America for tolerating homosexuality.

Kansas City first sought to ban the pickets in 1993 after city leaders learned the group planned to show up at the funeral of an area composer and concert pianist who had died from complications of the AIDS virus. City Council members repealed the ordinance in 2009 on the advice of city attorneys after other cities’ restrictions were struck down.

Councilman John Sharp, a co-sponsor of the new ordinance with Ed Ford, said Westboro protests are anything but peaceful.

“It’s very offensive picketing,” he said. “It’s got to be so hurtful for people who have lost loved ones.”

Sharp said he expected unanimous council support for the ordinance.

“Hopefully it will offer bereaved families some peace,” he said Tuesday.

To reach Christine Vendel, call 816-234-4438 or email cvendel@kcstar.com

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