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Court Grants Manchester Another Shot at Westboro Baptist Church Case

A full panel of judges will hear the case Phelps v. the City of Manchester after a three-panel judge had ruled in favor of Phelps earlier this year.

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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JoannR December 09, 2011 at 05:43 PM
Trust me TJ you can't stop them, the supreme court gave them the right and they will do it until someone stops them and it won't be by the legal system it is on their side. They keep tabs on every city that tries to enact a ordinance like this one and they sue each one and so far they have won each time. I have been to too many of them. Nashville handled it pretty well. They brought officers on horseback and parked the horse trailers all the way around them. The family couldn't see them but they knew they were there and they knew what they were saying. The supreme court has gave them a license to do what ever they want where ever and when ever.
hevnsent December 29, 2011 at 04:28 PM
They approached our children participating in a Christmas parade in Topeka. The police told us we just had to ignore them and I was refused a PFA or PFS to prevent them from approaching my daughter again. The law does nothing to protect our or our children's rights from obscenity.
Luke Thomas December 31, 2011 at 03:01 AM
The ACLU also defended NAMBLA (American MAN-BOY LOVE Association) and they believe Americans have the right to download and own (not make but own and distribute) CHILD PORN as "free speech". Just how EVIL is that? A LOT.
Jill January 02, 2012 at 04:37 PM
The answers to your poll make no sense in context to the question asked. Thank God for our rights to freedom of assembly and free speech. I would never surrender such rights to accommodate the prevailing sensitivities of a fickle populace!
Jerry Dennis January 05, 2012 at 05:44 AM
With every right there are responsibilities. Just because the Second Amendment gives you the right to own a firearm doesn't give you the absolute right to shoot someone. The same reasoning applies to the First Amendment. It's too bad Supreme Courts, past and present, forgot that part.

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