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Wisconsin enacts ban on protests at funerals
(AP, February 21, 2006)

Madison, USA - Gov. Jim Doyle signed legislation Monday banning protests at funerals in Wisconsin, calling it shameful to see picketers at the memorials of fallen soldiers.

Wisconsin is among more than a dozen states that have considered similar legislation following protests by members of Westboro Baptist Church, based in Topeka, Kan. The church's followers believe soldiers' deaths are God's vengeance for the nation's tolerance of homosexuality.

South Dakota's governor signed legislation banning protests at funerals last week.

Wisconsin's ban criminalizes protests that take place within 500 feet of a funeral one hour before or after the service.

It applies to protests within 500 feet of the entrance of a memorial service or a funeral. First-time violators face up to $10,000 in fines and nine months in jail. A second offense could bring up to a 31/2-year jail term.

Doyle said he thinks the law strikes a balance between 1st Amendment rights and the need to allow families to grieve in private.

But lawyer Shirley Phelps-Roper, whose father leads the Kansas church, said protesters plan to see what each state does before deciding how to proceed. She said any attempts to hinder their right to protest at a funeral in Wisconsin could prompt them to take legal action.

"If we were standing outside these places with `God loves this soldier' signs and `God bless America,' we would not be having this conversation," she said. "Instead, we're telling this nation God is pouring his wrath out on this disobedient nation. This message is not going to be hindered by this move."

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