Arizona To Take On Westboro Baptist Church In Wake Of Shooting

January 10, 2011 1:53 pm

TUCSON, AZ — The Arizona state legislature is planning to limit the ability of members of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church to disrupt the funerals of victims of Saturday’s deadly shooting, an area state Representative tells TPM.

In one of its first acts since a gunman attacked a constituent event hosted by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), a bipartisan group of state legislators is expected to push through a bill this week that would deny the Westboro Bapist Church — the Kansas-based congregation led by Fred Phelps that’s best known for protesting military funerals — some of the media spotlight the group seems to crave.

[TPM SLIDESHOW: Moment Of Silence: Nation Reflects On Tragic Arizona Shooting]Rep. Daniel Patterson (D), whose district covers southern Tucson including the city’s downtown, told me this afternoon that legislators are currently working on a constitutional way to keep Phelps and his crew away from the funerals.

“We’re going to try to protect the families from undue harassment,” Patterson told TPM.

Westboro announced its plans to protest outside funerals for those killed in the shooting in a press release. The group plans to haul its well-known signs to the memorial service for Christina Green, the 9-year-old victim of the shooting.

Arizona House Democratic Caucus aide Sarah Muench told TPM that as soon as Westboro’s plans became public, leaders from both parties in the state legislature — which kicked off its new term Monday — got together to work on a way to prevent the church from harassing mourners.

The final language for the bill has yet to be written, but Muench said it will be modeled on other states’ laws aimed at limiting Westboro.

“It’s definitely going to happen,” Muench told me. “Hopefully this week.”

A federal appeals court last year ruled that the picketing was free speech protected by the Constitution, and a lawyer for the group appeared before the Supreme Court in October to argue the issue. The Court has yet to issue its ruling.

Ryan J. Reilly contributed to this report.

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