- Associated Press - Saturday, November 1, 2014

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - A federal judge has cleared the way for a trial over a challenge to the Nebraska law that limits protests and picketing at funerals.

The case stems from a lawsuit filed in 2009 by members of Topeka, Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church that challenged Nebraska’s funeral picketing law. The original 2006 law required protesters to stand 300 feet away from a funeral service, but it has since been amended to keep protesters at least 500 feet away.

The church protests at funerals around the country - using chants and signs that include anti-gay slurs - contending that U.S. soldiers and others are being struck down by God for defending a nation that tolerates homosexuality.

On Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Laurie Smith Camp denied a motion for summary judgment by the church, The Omaha World-Herald reported (https://bit.ly/1wSFscH ).

Smith Camp said several issues need to be resolved at trial. Those include whether the 500-foot restriction is narrowly tailored to serve an important governmental interest without violating free speech rights and whether picketing at funerals is the only way the church can get its message across.

Margie Phelps-Roper, a Westboro member and an attorney for the church, told The Associated Press in an email Saturday that she is confident the church will prevail at trial, set for March.

“It will be another testimony against Nebraska,” she said, referring to court decisions that have favored Westboro in the funeral protest law challenge, as well as the church’s successful challenge in 2010 of Nebraska’s ban on flag mutilation.

Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning, who is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, told the World-Herald he was pleased with the judge’s decision.

“I’ll continue to fight to ensure peace and privacy for those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in protecting our country,” Bruning said in a written statement.


Information from: Omaha World-Herald, https://www.omaha.com

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