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Judge suspends
law aimed at stopping protests by antigay church

Judge suspends
law aimed at stopping protests by antigay church

Kentucky's state law forbidding protests within 300 feet of military funerals and memorial services was suspended temporarily after a federal judge ruled it was too broad. The law, passed earlier this year, was aimed at members of a Topeka, Kan., church who have toured America protesting at military funerals. The Westboro Baptist Church claims the soldiers' deaths are part of God's punishment for tolerating homosexuality in America.

U.S. district judge Karen Caldwell wrote Tuesday that the law could restrict the free speech rights of people in nearby homes, sidewalks, and streets, even if they cannot be seen or heard by funeral participants. The 300-foot zone ''is large enough that it would restrict communications intended for the general public on a matter completely unrelated to the funeral as well as messages targeted at funeral participants,'' Caldwell wrote in a ruling issued in Frankfort.

Those found guilty of violating the law, which also applies to memorial services, wakes, and burials, would face up to a year in jail. About a dozen states have similar laws in place, and Congress passed a law earlier this year prohibiting protests at military funerals at federal cemeteries.

Kentucky attorney general Greg Stumbo said he would consider an appeal. ''I believe that society has an interest in honoring its war dead. Funerals are times of sacred and solemn reflection which must be protected from aggressive disruption,'' Stumbo said in a statement.

Lili Lutgens, general counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, which filed the suit, said Caldwell ''reinforced the importance of freedom of expression'' and that the ACLU will seek a permanent injunction throwing out the law. ''We continue to support the commonwealth's efforts to protect funerals, but we know it's not necessary to violate the First Amendment to do that,'' she said. (AP)

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