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House Approves Limits on Protests at Funerals

The Missouri House gave overwhelming approval to legislation that prohibits protests at funerals. KSMU's Missy Shelton reports.

Bill sponsors say they introduced the bill after members of the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church protested the funeral of a soldier killed in Iraq...At the funeral in St Joseph, Missouri, members of the church protested, holding derogatory signs aimed at homosexuals.

The group is known for protesting outside the funerals of soldiers and other high profile memorial services.

Democratic Representative Martin Rucker is handling the bill...The protest took place in his legislative district.

Republican Representative Mark Wright of Springfield says last year, the group wanted to come to Southwest Missouri to protest a funeral.

Only a handful of lawmakers had concerns about the bill...One of those was Democratic Representative Jeanette Mott Oxford. She's an openly gay woman who says she's been the target of anti-gay protests...Still, she says these people have a right to express themselves.

But the bill handler, Martin Rucker says the bill addresses free speech concerns.

He says there are provisions in the bill that allow protests to take place but the goal is to protect the grieving family from witnessing the protests.

Those who have concerns about free speech say there are other ways to combat hate speech besides limiting it. Jeanette Mott Oxford says communities should take it upon themselves to combat hate speech with positive speech.

Sometimes expecting people to do the right thing isn't enough, according to bill supporters. The bill handler Martin Rucker says he's appalled that lawmakers even have to address the issue of funeral protests at all.

The senate has passed its own version of the bill...The senate must either accept the House version or go to conference and work out the differences.