Huffpost Politics

Judge Overturns Nebraska Ban On Flag Mutilation, Siding With Westboro Church's Right To Protest Military Funerals

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OMAHA, Neb. — A federal judge overturned Nebraska's ban on flag mutilation Thursday, clearing the way for Kansas church protesters to continue trampling on the U.S. flag when they protest at military funerals.

The ruling from U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf said the law can't be applied as long as Megan Phelps-Roper and fellow members of the Westboro Baptist Church "otherwise act peacefully while desecrating the American or Nebraska flag during their religiously motivated protests."

It was unclear whether the ruling applied only to the church members or to everyone in Nebraska. An earlier temporary block of the law applied only to Phelps-Roper.

The judge declined to explain the intent of his ruling when reached by The Associated Press.

A message left Thursday with the Nebraska attorney general's office wasn't immediately returned.

Attorney General Jon Bruning has previously said the flag-protection law passed in 1977 is not consistent with later U.S. Supreme Court rulings that labeled flag desecration a form of protected speech.

Bruning has said he wouldn't fight to save the Nebraska law. If he chooses not to appeal, Kopf's decision would close the case.

Members of the Topeka, Kan., church protest at soldier funerals around the country because they believe U.S. troop deaths are punishment for the nation's tolerance of homosexuality. Group members often trample on the U.S. flag, wear it and display it upside-down as part of their protests.

In July, Phelps-Roper filed the federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Nebraska's flag law, saying it infringed on her right to free speech. The law barred intentionally "casting contempt or ridicule" upon a U.S. or Nebraska flag by mutilating, defacing or burning it or by trampling on it.

Phelps-Roper's attorney, Margie Phelps, said Thursday the church has been "expressively using the flag a lot in Nebraska."

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