Lawyers Square Off in Federal Court Over Westboro Protests

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ST. LOUIS — Members of the Westboro Baptist Church were in a federal appeals court on Monday, as a showdown loomed over their controversial protests at military funerals.

Members of the Topeka-based church – which consists largely of family and friends of Rev. Fred Phelps – have gained international notoriety for their funeral protests. The church believes that the deaths of U.S. military personnel are God’s punishment against the nation for the toleration of homosexuality.

The American Civil Liberties Union has sued the St. Louis suburb of Manchester along with several other Missouri cities over ordinances banning the church’s protests, saying that they are political speech and protected by the First Amendment.

Lawyers for Manchester, which passed their anti-protest ordinance in 2007, say that the protests are only intended to cause emotional damage to the family and friends of dead service members, and are merely harassment – not protected speech.

The case was heard by all 11 appellate judges. There is no word on when the court will issue its final ruling.

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