St. Peters officials may be moving again toward adopting an ordinance that limits picketing and protests at funerals.
The city’s Board of Aldermen may consider a new ordinance at their meeting in August.
In 2010, the city repealed an ordinance restricting protests at funerals after receiving a letter from the American Civil Liberties Union, which challenged local laws restricting protests. At the time, the civil liberties union was representing members of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas.
Alderman Patrick Barclay (Ward 4) told the board at its June 25 work session that city officials wanted to revisit the ordinance once legal challenges to similar laws had been heard in court. That day came in 2012 when the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a similar ordinance, authored by city of Manchester, did not violate First Amendment rights because it was narrowly written and offers people other opportunities to express their views.
The Manchester ordinance and a similar one adopted by the St. Charles County Council appear to meet legal challenges, Barclay and St. Peters Special Counsel Randy Weber have said. Other cities, including O’Fallon, also have adopted similar ordinances.
Westboro members have protested at hundreds of funerals for military personnel across the country, including at one a few years ago in St. Charles County. Westboro members claim the deaths are God’s punishment for America’s tolerance of homosexuality.
The ordinances are an attempt to try to protect grieving families and preserve the “peaceful charter” of cemeteries and places of worship, according to the county ordinance. Violations of the county ordinance can result in a $1,000 fine.
Barclay said he favored adopting portions of both the Manchester and St. Louis County ordinances, but favored the restrictive language in the Manchester ordinance.
The Manchester ordinance bans protests within 300 feet of any “residence, cemetery, funeral home, church, synagogue or other establishment during or within one hour before or one hour after the conducting of any actual funeral or burial service at that place.”
Weber said the county’s ordinance was adopted after the Manchester court ruling, is more carefully worded and is the basis for what he may draft for the board’s consideration. The question is how far the board wants to go as far as restrictions, he said. Barclay also pressed the board for direction.
“The smart thing, Patrick, is to tell Randy to extend it as far as it’s legal,” Alderman Jerry Hollingsworth (Ward 4), board president, advised.