COLUMBIA – Westboro Baptist Church is planning protests in Columbia on Friday. The Kansas congregation is recognized as a hate group by the civil rights law firm Southern Poverty Law Center. The group is most well-known for its protests of homosexuality at military funerals.
Q: Where does the U.S. Constitution stand on hate speech?
A: The Constitution does not specifically mention hate speech. The First Amendment states that Congress shall make no law abridging freedom of speech. Many are conflicted as to what types of speech the Constitution protects. Hate speech falls into the “gray zone” along with heavy metal lyrics, flag burning and pornography, according to firstamendmentcenter.org, a Web site run by The First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University.
The U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., recently overturned a $5 million ruling against Westboro Baptist Church. The court ruled that the church’s protest outside of a funeral for a soldier was free speech.
Q: What does Missouri law state about protests near funerals?
A: Missouri law prohibits picketing in front of a church, funeral home or cemetery an hour before or after the service as well as during the funeral.
Q: What is Westboro Baptist Church?
A: Westboro Baptist Church was founded in 1955 by Fred Phelps in Topeka, Kan. Members of the congregation commonly protest against homosexuality and often picket funerals of soldiers and those who have died of AIDS.
Q: Why are they coming to Columbia?
A: Westboro Baptist Church will be picketing at four locations around Columbia on Friday:
- 2:40 to 3:10 p.m. at Hickman High School
- 5:30 to 6 p.m. at Mizzou Hillel
- 6:45 to 7 p.m. at Macklanburg Playhouse
- 7 to 7:30 p.m. at Congregation Beth Shalom
The main reason behind the protests is the Stephens College production of “The Laramie Project," which is about the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay student who was attending the University of Wyoming at the time of his death.
Q: Do they have a permit for their protest?
A: Yes. Columbia Police Department said the church has permits for all four locations. The permits state that they can't block business entrances, sidewalks or streets.
Q: Are there counter-protests to Westboro Baptist Church's protest?
A: Members of the Columbia Area National Organization for Women and other members of the community will be counter-protesting on Friday. The number of counter-protesters who will be at each site is unknown.
Westboro Baptist Church previously protested in Columbia on May 14. Some Columbia residents participated in “Pledge a Protester” by pledging money per person that counter-protested. That program has been altered slightly for the protests on Friday. Participants can pledge money for every minute that Westboro Baptist Church protests, said Mary Mosley, president of the Columbia Area NOW . Proceeds from the pledge will go to the Center Project, which is a community center for people of all sexual identities in Columbia.