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Arizona passes emergency law prohibiting funeral protests

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed [press release, PDF] emergency legislation [SB1101 materials; text] Tuesday making it a crime to picket or protest a funeral. The move comes after Reverend Fred Phelps's Westboro Baptist Church [WARNING: readers may find material at this church website offensive; JURIST news archive] announced plans to picket the funeral of Christina Green, a 9-year-old girl killed Saturday in the shooting that injured Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) and killed federal judge John Roll. The law makes it a misdemeanor "to cause picketing or other protest activities to occur within three hundred feet of the property line of any residence, cemetery, funeral home, church, synagogue, or other establishment during or within one hour before or one hour after the conducting of a burial or funeral service at that place." The bill, which received unanimous support from both houses of the Arizona legislature, imposes up to six months in prison for violators and fines of up to $2,500. A spokesperson for Westboro Baptist Church said the group plans to protest the funeral despite the new law [Arizona Daily Sun report] and that she does not believe the law will affect the group since its members do not plan to enter the three-hundred-foot boundary. As emergency legislation, the law took immediate effect upon Brewer's signing.

On Monday, federal prosecutors charged Jared Loughner [criminal complaint, PDF; JURIST report] with murder and attempted murder for his role in Saturday's attack. The Westboro Baptist church has faced ongoing legislation and litigation over its practice of picketing high-profile and military funerals. In October, the US Supreme Court [official website] heard oral arguments [JURIST report] in Snyder v. Phelps [SCOTUSblog backgrounder] regarding the extent to which the First Amendment [text] protects picketing at funerals. The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled [opinion, PDF] that such activity is protected speech, overturning a lower court judgment [JURIST report] awarding almost $11 million to the family of a Marine that filed suit [JURIST report] after Phelps and his church picketed the Marine's funeral. In 2008, the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upheld [JURIST report] an Ohio law [ORC 3767.30 text] substantially the same as the one passed in Arizona Tuesday.

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