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Nebraska funeral picketing law survives protester's challenge

Nebraska funeral picketing law survives protester's challenge
From Reuters - August 11, 2017

(Reuters) - A federal appeals court on Friday upheld a Nebraska law that prohibits picketing within 500 feet of funerals, saying it did not violate the free speech rights of the Westboro Baptist Church, whose members condemn homosexuality.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 3-0 that the law struck an appropriate balance between the rights of law-abiding people to speak, and the privacy right of mourners to grieve without intrusions.

Westboro members often protest at military funerals, and the Topeka, Kansas-based church has drawn attention for appearing at funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

They believe that patriotic displays turn the funerals into "patriotic pep rallies," though the deaths are a result of God's wrath over the United States' tolerance of gays and lesbians.

"This changes nothing," Westboro lawyer Margie Phelps said in an interview. "We have got to be on your streets. We have got to warn you that your soldiers are dying for the nation's proud sins."

Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson welcomed the decision.

"This law strikes the appropriate balance between First Amendment free speech rights and the rights of grieving families to bury their loved ones in peace," he said in a statement.

The law had been challenged by Phelps' sister Shirley Phelps-Roper, a Westboro member involved in picketing the October 2011 funeral of Caleb Nelson, a 26-year-old Navy SEAL from Omaha.

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