Councilman to introduce bill to restrict protests at funerals

Redington would determine jurisdiction of Stenger’s bill

By Mike Anthony

Sixth District County Councilman Steve Stenger, D-Affton, plans to introduce legislation that would place restrictions on funeral and burial protests of veterans.

Stenger last week requested County Counselor Pat Redington draft the legislation with the goal of introducing it at Tuesday night’s County Council meeting, which took place after the Call went to press.

The legislation should mirror ordinances approved in Creve Coeur, Manchester and Clayton, Stenger told the Call.

“… The 8th (U.S.) Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the city of Manchester’s ordinance in October, and the ordinance that I am asking for would be virtually identical to Manchester’s. So I believe it would survive constitutional scrutiny,” he said.

The Manchester ordinance was drafted in response to funeral and burial protests conducted by members of the Topeka, Kan.-based Westboro Baptist Church.

As proposed, Stenger said the ordinance would restrict picketing within 300 feet of where a funeral or burial service is taking place during the duration of the service, as well as one hour before and after a service.

Stenger also asked Redington to determine whether the legislation would apply countywide or just in unincorporated areas of St. Louis County.

Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery lies completely within his district, Stenger said.

The cemetery, with its 346 developed acres and more than 176,000 interments is the fifth busiest national cemetery with 350 to 400 burials per month, according to the councilman.

“I see these smaller municipalities taking action in this regard and to think we wouldn’t take that same action for our fallen heroes, particularly in unincorporated (St. Louis County) in our own district where we have Jefferson Barracks Cemetery, I think it would be a mistake not to do that,” Stenger said.

“So I’m moving forward with that legislation and I’m asking for my fellow council members’ support in doing that. It would be a big shift, I think, and a big change for St. Louis County, and particularly for our district. I think that’s a very good thing for Jefferson Barracks.”

Besides the County Council, Stenger hopes the public will support his proposed legislation.

“… I hope people will join me in supporting that. When you think about 350 to 400 burials per month (at Jefferson Barracks), that’s a great number of soldiers who sacrificed for us. To think that’s right there in our district and to think there’s 176,000 internments, it’s staggering to one’s mind and to think that there’s no protection for those families,” he said.

“I just don’t know what I would do if I had a family member who lost their life in service to our country and I’m on the way to the burial and funeral and there’s picketers that are completely unrelated. From what I can see, there’s no connection to this. It’s just to disrupt, to antagonize, to harass and to vex those that have made the ultimate sacrifice and their families. It’s not right.”