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AZ Lawmakers Move to Limit Westboro Baptist Protests at Funerals

Jim Burroway

January 11th, 2011

Soon after Saturday’s heinous massacre of six Tucsonans and the injuring of fourteen others including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, Westboro Baptist’s Fred Phelps announced via video that the shooter, Jared Loughner, was appointed by Phelps’s god to do the evil deed and that the Westboro clan would protest the funerals. Arizona state Sen. Kirsten Sinema (D-Phoenix) swung into action:

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has signed into law emergency legislation to head off picketing by a Topeka, Kan., church near the funeral service for a 9-year-old girl who was killed during Saturday’s shooting in Tucson. Unanimous votes by the House and Senate on Tuesday sent the bill to Brewer. It took effect immediately with her signature Tuesday night. The new law prohibits protests within 300 feet of a funeral or burial service.

…Arizona State Representative Kyrsten Sinema said when she heard of the plans, she got downright angry and decided to take action.  Sinema sponsored Senate Bill 1101 and got some help from fellow legislators.  “We patterned legislation after Ohio’s law which is constitutional, it’s been upheld in court, and I got permission from the speaker and the senate president to wave the rules,” Sinema said.

…”The bill requires them to be at least 300 feet away from the funeral from an hour before the funeral starts to an hour after it ends and that way people can grieve and love in peace,” Sinema said.

The bill passed the Arizona House and Senate in record time, and was signed into law at 3:00pm by Governor Brewer. The first funerals will take place on Thursday. The Boston-based Phelps-A-Thon has pledged to make a donation to Wingspan’s Anti-Violence Project of Southern Arizona for every funeral the Phelps clan protests. Wingspan is the LGBT community center for Tucson and southern Arizona. You can also donate directly to Wingspan here.

Meanwhile President Barack Obama has announced that he will speak at a community memorial service scheduled for tomorrow evening. The memorial begins at 6:00pm MST at the McKale Center on the University of Arizona campus.



January 12th, 2011 | LINK

That Phelps clan are from a hate preaching church. They shouldn’t even be allowed out of Kansas. The God I believe doesn’t preach hate like they do..I don’t understand how they can call themselves christians.

January 12th, 2011 | LINK

I find it sad that there are so many so willing to throw the Constitution under the bus the moment it becomes inconvenient.

The same laws that protect your speech protect theirs. Sorry guys – you can’t protect the one without the other.

Leonardo Ricardo
January 12th, 2011 | LINK

Exactly! They must be allowed to protest (even better to see these thugs in public instead of the hidden deadly gang of really dangerous filth who occupy the more secretive establishments of the ¨C¨ Street ¨christians¨ radicals).

Jim Burroway
January 12th, 2011 | LINK

As a clarification, they are allowed to protest. They just must remain 300 feet away. I’ve changed the headline to reflect that. This is similar to restrictions on protests at abortion clinics.

January 12th, 2011 | LINK

Are they going to stick around to protest when Obama addresses the memorial service? That would give them the publicity they so crave.

January 12th, 2011 | LINK

These hatemongers are allowed to legally and openly give their spiel 100 meters away from funerals and yet some are worried that they’re not being given enough? In a few areas of public life such as at and near abortion clinics, on public transportation systems, and at funerals I think we ought to respect people’s freedom from speech.

Priya Lynn
January 12th, 2011 | LINK

I can’t get over what a heartless scumbag this guy is.

Regan DuCasse
January 12th, 2011 | LINK

People like the Phelps, use their 1st amendment right in such a way as pushing the line to provocation, harassment and incitement.
This is not protected speech. And the reason why, is so that one’s own and the safety of others isn’t compromised.

The Phelps force local law enforcers to circle them, and protect them from their own excess. Whose costs, should be incurred by the Phelps.
After all, this isn’t about their own locality or taxes or personal NEED for expression of grievances to their government.

This is a matter of people who insist on being pests, during a time when emotions and pain are at their zenith.

It becomes ever more difficult to keep a line of protection between some people and their speech.
Indeed, the debate on this tragedy is addressing one head of the hydra. The kinds of incitement that extends to eventual, and mostly PREDICTABLE violence.

We know there is a distinct connection between anti gay speech, and anti gay violence.

The Phelps are perhaps the most notorious pests, and don’t pick their targets that have the strength or interest in challenging them, but they choose a specific time to come around when people are most likely to want to do some physical damage to them.
Why would you come around to pour salt on a wounded person?
Two reasons:
You know that someone will be between them and your own safety.

I think, rather than try and create laws that keep the Phelps away, I’d say make THEM pay for doing it. Charge them a fee.
Just as Klan choose to march through black and Jewish neighborhoods to heighten the risk level, sometimes ignoring them isn’t an option.
Making them pay to play is.

Michael Ejercito
January 12th, 2011 | LINK

As a clarification, they are allowed to protest. They just must remain 300 feet away. I’ve changed the headline to reflect that. This is similar to restrictions on protests at abortion clinics.

Indeed, time, place, and manner restrictions are held to a lesser level of scrutiny than content restrictions.

This would be a borderline First Amendment case.

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