Ballwin Board unanimously approves drafting funeral protest legislation
By: Jim Erickson
With encouragement from two citizens and one of its own members, the Ballwin Board of Aldermen has committed itself to considering an ordinance restricting protests at funerals.
In a unanimous vote at its Feb. 25 meeting, the Board asked that an ordinance based on one adopted by the city of Manchester and upheld last October in a ruling by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals be drafted and presented for review and possible action at an upcoming meeting.
During the citizen comment period at the start of the Board meeting, Dennis Goethe from Schrader Funeral Home and Michael Gollon from the Marine Corps League urged the Board to take action on such an ordinance, saying it was both an appropriate and decent thing to do to spare family members from unnecessary emotional distress when they already were grieving the loss of a loved one.
Alderman Mark Harder (Ward 2) had noted the favorable court ruling on the Manchester ordinance during a November Board meeting and had called for the city to consider adopting a similar measure.
At the Feb. 25 session, Harder took the issue a step further.
“Years ago, no one would have thought about creating a law that would deal with protests at a funeral,” he stated. “It was unthinkable to protest or do anything of the sort at a funeral or other sensitive occasion. It was at best considered rude and uncaring. But those were different times and today these protests have turned into a media circus. The whole situation spins out of control while media encourage the event by giving everyone their 15 minutes of fame. The whole spectacle is despicable and disrespectful.”
Manchester’s ordinance was aimed at preventing picketing and protests by members of an activist Kansas church who frequently demonstrate at funerals or soldiers, claiming the deaths are God’s punishment for the nation’s immorality and for tolerating homosexuality and abortion.
The Manchester measure does not ban protests but sets restrictions on them. Among other things, it says demonstrators are not allowed within 300 feet of a funeral or burial service while it is under way and for an hour before and after the rites.
Harder said is his statement that a similar law in Ballwin “would give families of the deceased some comfort knowing that their son or daughter’s funeral … will not become a protest circus and they will be honored by a caring community with the dignity they deserve.”
At the same time, Harder said, the proposed ordinance does “not eliminate the right of free speech, for which they died as well. And for those who want to make a fool of themselves before and after a funeral, go ahead … just not during the hour or so when the funeral is going on.”