Federal Judge Blocks Kentucky Law Limiting Speech at Funerals

Affiliate: ACLU of Kentucky
September 26, 2006 12:00 am

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FRANKFORT, KY – A federal judge in Kentucky today issued a first-ever ruling prohibiting enforcement of a statewide ban on peaceful protests and non-disruptive speech near funerals. The court order comes in a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, which argued that the state law went too far in restricting freedom of speech.

“Certainly the Commonwealth has an interest in showing respect and compassion for the deceased and for their families, but we cannot allow lawmakers to trample upon the First Amendment in the process,” said ACLU of Kentucky staff attorney Lili Lutgens. “Today, the federal court recognized that even speech that most people find distasteful is still protected by the Constitution.”

U.S. District Judge Karen Caldwell issued the preliminary injunction today in a lawsuit challenging two sections of Kentucky’s funeral protest ban, which was passed by the 2006 Kentucky General Assembly. Judge Caldwell ruled that the two provisions of the ban are overbroad and “restrict substantially more speech” than necessary to prevent interference or disruption of funerals.

The challenge was filed in May on behalf of Mercer County resident Bart McQueary, who said the ban violates his First Amendment right to peaceful expression.

The new laws ban peaceful protests within 300 feet of a funeral, and restrict McQueary and others from making sounds or displaying signs within earshot or eyesight of funeral attendees, and from distributing literature in a non-disruptive manner without approval from the family of the deceased or from the person conducting the service.

The ACLU argued in the court papers that the new laws are so broad that they could make it a crime to whistle while walking down the street within earshot of a funeral or to stop for a conversation on a public sidewalk adjacent to a funeral home or place of worship while a funeral service is in progress. According to the ACLU, the laws may even prevent groups like the Patriot Guard Riders, a group of pro-military bikers, from being close enough to support the families of soldiers who have died in Iraq during military funeral protests.

A copy of the opinion and order is online at: www.aclu-ky.org/Funeral%20Protest%20PI%20Order%20&%20Opinion%2009%2027%2006.pdf

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