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Media Alerts - Phelps-Roper v. Troutman - Eighth Circuit
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May 12, 2013
  Phelps-Roper v. Troutman - Eighth Circuit
Headline: Eighth Circuit considers and remands another challenge by a member of the Westboro Baptist Church to funeral picketing restrictions.

Area of Law: Constitutional (Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment)

Issue Presented: Whether a Nebraska statute restricting picketing within 300 feet of a funeral (amended to 500 feet while the case was on appeal) violates the First Amendment right to freedom of speech.

Brief Summary: Shirley Phelps-Roper, a member of the Westboro Baptist Church, challenged a Nebraska law prohibiting picketing near funerals. The Westboro Baptist Church believes, as described by the Eighth Circuit, "that God is killing Americans as punishment for tolerating homosexuality." Phelps-Roper challenged the Nebraska funeral picketing restriction as violating her First Amendment rights both on its face and as applied. At the time of her original complaint, the Nebraska statute prohibited picketing within 300 feet of a funeral. The District Court found that the Nebraska law was content neutral, and that it survived the First Amendment challenge because the 300 foot buffer zone was "narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest . . . and leaves ample alternative channels for Phelps-Roper's communications that are protected by the First Amendment." While this decision upholding the 300-foot buffer was on appeal to the Eighth Circuit, Nebraska changed the law, expanding the buffer zone to 500 feet. Because Phelps-Roper's challenge was not only to the statute on its face but also as applied, which means that the factual application of the statute becomes relevant, the Eighth Circuit decided to remand the case back to the District Court to provide that court with the opportunity to consider Phelps-Roper's claims in light of the expansion in the buffer zone from 300 feet to 500 feet.

The full text of the opinion is available at

Panel: Circuit Judges Murphy, Beam, and Colloton

Date of Issued Opinion: April 12, 2013

Docket Number: 10-2601

Decided: April 12, 2013

Case Alert Author: Sharon Reich Paulsen

Counsel: Margie J. Phelps (appellant); Stephanie Anne Caldwell and James D. Smith (Appellees)

Author of Opinion: Per Curiam

    Posted By: Sharon Reich Paulsen @ 05/12/2013 03:19 PM     8th Circuit  

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