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Androvett Blog

by Robert Tharp at 3:40:15 pm

Top New Texas Laws of 2011: Will New Ban on Funeral Protests Stand on Appeal?

In a law aimed directly at Westboro Baptist Church’s inflamatory protests of military funerals, HB718 makes it a crime to picket near any Texas funeral ceremony. According to the new law, protestors must cease three hours before a ceremony begins and wait for three hours to pass before resuming pickets.

Rep. Allen Fletcher, R-Tomball, says he drafted the law in direct response to the protests by Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church, whose members have received national attention for their protesting of funerals for fallen U.S. soldiers, holding up signs with gems like: "Thank God for dead soldiers" and "God Hates the USA/Thank God for 9/11."

In March, the Supreme Court sided with Westboro Church in a civil lawsuit regarding a 2006 protest of U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder. Matthew Snyder’s father Albert Snyder sued the church for damages, but the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that the church’s speech fell under the “special protection” of the First Amendment. However, the court declined to evaluate the constitutionality of the more than 40 state statutes that have passed picketing restrictions, including HB718.

“This law is certain to be challenged on constitutional grounds,” says appellate lawyer Rick Thompson, whose practice at Dallas-based Hankinson Levinger includes constitutional law.