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City fulfills promise, bans protests at funerals

St. Peters has a new ordinance that limits picketing and protests at funerals, fulfilling a promise city officials made to revisit the idea after repealing an earlier ordinance in 2010.

The city’s Board of Aldermen unanimously approved a new ordinance at its Aug. 13 meeting that city officials say incorporates language in similar ordinances adopted by the city of Manchester and St. Charles County. The language is strong enough to withstand legal challenges, city officials said.

“We have basically come back to a promise we made four years ago to revisit putting this code back on the books after it was removed because of threats of legal action,” said Alderman Patrick Barclay (Ward 4). “We told people we would come back after it was tested in the courts.”

In 2010, St. Peters repealed an ordinance restricting protests at funerals after receiving a letter from the American Civil Liberties Union, which challenged local laws restricting protests. However, since that time, ordinances in Manchester and St. Charles County appear to meet legal challenges, Special City Counsel Randy Weber said. He said the city’s new ordinance “marries” provisions from both ordinances, which have been reviewed by the court of appeals.

St. Peters’ ordinance states that its purpose is to “protect the privacy of grieving families and to preserve the peaceful character of cemeteries, mortuaries and places of worship, during a funeral at that place” while providing picketers and protestors an opportunity that “minimizes the interference with the rights of families participating in a funeral.”

The ordinance bans protests within 300 feet of “the premises of a cemetery, mortuary, place of worship or other location were a funeral is conducted” and within one hour before or after a funeral service.

Funerals refer to the ceremonies and services but not funeral processions on public streets and highways or wakes or visitation, the ordinance adds. Violations of the county ordinance can result in a $500 fine or 90 days in jail or both.

Alderman Jerry Hollingsworth (Ward 4) asked Weber if he felt the new ordinance was legal.

“We absolutely do,” Weber replied.

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