The Eighth District Court of Appeals has accepted the City of Manchester’s petition to re-hear the case Phelps v. the City of Manchester before a full panel of judges. The Westboro Baptists church had sued Manchester for a city ordinance restricting protests or pickets at funerals.
In October of 2010, members of the Phelps family, who head the Westboro Baptist Church, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, filed a lawsuit against a city of Manchester’s ordinance that prohibited protests or picketing near a funeral. The ordinance was enacted in 2007 in response to previous Westboro Baptist Church funeral protests elsewhere in Missouri and in the country.
The church, according to their website (Warning: Strong Language), regularly pickets funerals of dead American soldiers. The church claims the death of soldiers is a punishment for America's tolerance of gay rights.
On Oct. 5 of this year, a three-judge panel ruled in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church and the ACLU, arguing Manchester’s ordinance violated the church’s first amendment rights, according to records Patch obtained through the Federal Public Access to Court Electronic Records, (PACER) service.
On Nov. 2, however, the City of Manchester, represented by City Attorney Patrick Gunn and the law firm Lewis, Rice and Fingersh L.C, filed a petition for rehearing “en banc.” The en banc petition asked for the entire Eighth District Court of Appeals bench of judges to hear the case rather than the usual panel of three judges.
Yesterday, the court granted Manchester’s request, and a hearing was set for Jan. 9 of next year.
This will be another chapter in the church’s legal battle for their right to protest. On March of this year, the Supreme Court ruled in a 8-1 decision against the father of a fallen soldier who sued the church members for the emotional pain they allegedly cause while protesting his son’s funeral, according a Huffington Post article.
According to the Supreme Court’s ruling on that case, Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority opinion, said: "Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and — as it did here — inflict great pain. On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker. As a Nation we have chosen a different course — to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate. That choice requires that we shield Westboro from tort liability for its picketing in this case.”
Stay tuned to Town and Country - Manchester Patch for more updates on this case.
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