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Phelps Clan Wins Initial Anti-Gay Speech Battle

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Phelps Clan Wins Initial Anti-Gay Speech Battle

by The Associated Press

September 26, 2006 - 6:00 pm ET

(Louisville, Kentucky) A federal judge has temporarily suspended Kentucky's law forbidding protests within 300 feet of military funerals and memorial services.

U.S. District Judge Karen Caldwell said today that the law goes too far in limiting free speech. The law aimed at Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., which is known for its anti-gay protests, is too broad to serve its intended purpose, the judge said.

"The zone is large enough that it would restrict communications intended for the general public on a matter completely unrelated to the funeral as well as messages targeted at funeral participants," Caldwell wrote in a 37-page ruling issued in Frankfort.

Earlier this year, the Kentucky General Assembly passed the law prohibiting nearly all protests at military funerals.

Kentucky Attorney General Greg Stumbo said he was considering an appeal.

"I believe that society has an interest in honoring its war dead. Funerals are times of sacred and solemn reflection which must be protected from aggressive disruption," Stumbo said in a statement.

The law, which also applies to memorial services, wakes and burials, was aimed at members of Westboro Baptist Church who have toured the country protesting at military funerals. The church members claim the soldiers' deaths are a sign of God punishing America for tolerating homosexuality.

The ACLU filed the lawsuit on behalf of Bart McQueary, a Mercer County man who has protested alongside the church members on three occasions.

Protesters within 300 feet of such services would be guilty of first-degree disorderly conduct, punishable by up to a year in jail. The bill also would prevent protesters from using bullhorns to try to disrupt the services.

A message left at Westboro Baptist Church was not immediately returned Tuesday.

Members of the Westboro church have protested at funerals for members of the Kentucky National Guard and U.S. Army soldiers based at Fort Campbell who have been killed in action.

At their protests, members of the Kansas group carry such signs as "Thank God for IEDs," the improvised explosive devices used by insurgents in Iraq.

Funeral services have been scheduled for Saturday for a Kentucky National Guard soldier who died last week in Iraq, military officials said.

Services for Sgt. 1st Class Charles Jason Jones will take place at London Funeral Home in London, Ky. Burial will be at Locust Grove Cemetery in Keavy.

Jones, 29, of Lawrenceburg, was found dead in his quarters on Sept. 20 from non combat-related causes. Military officials said they are still investigating the cause of his death.

©365Gay.com 2006

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