A homophobic religious sect that protests at the funerals of US soldiers who died in action has lost an appeal against a law in Ohio that limits their activities.

Shirley Phelps-Roper of the Westboro Baptist Church unsuccessfully claimed in a federal appeals court that the 2006 amendment to the law interfered with her right to free speech.

She claimed that mourners at funerals are there voluntarily and have the option of not attending.

Judge Richard F. Suhrheinrich of the 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed her argument.

“Friends and family of the deceased should not be expected to opt-out from attending their loved one’s funeral or burial service,” he wrote.

“Nor can funeral attendees simply ‘avert their eyes’ to avoid exposure to disruptive speech at a funeral or burial service. The mere presence of a protestor is sufficient to inflict the harm.”

Westboro Baptist members regularly picket funerals of members of the US Armed Forces killed in action, contending the deaths are God’s punishment for the country’s support of homosexuals.

Its 75 members have caused so much distress picketing funerals that it has been restricted from doing so in 22 states.

The group, led by Rev Fred Phelps, is notorious for also picketing the funerals of homosexual victims of murder.

They first came to prominence more than a decade ago when they protested a the funeral of murdered gay man Matthew Shepard.

“In 1991, WBC took her ministry to the streets, conducting over 34,000 peaceful demonstrations (to date) opposing the fag lifestyle of soul-damning, nation-destroying filth,” the church claims on its website.

“America crossed the line on June 26, 2003, when the Supreme Court (the conscience of the nation) ruled that we must respect sodomy. WBC believes her gospel message to be this world’s last hope.”

The church, based in Topeka, Kansas, runs numerous websites such as GodHatesFags.com, GodHatesAmerica.com and others expressing condemnation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, Roman Catholics, Muslims and Jews.

In April a federal judge ordered that the Westboro Baptist Church building and the Phelps-Chartered Law office be taken away from the owners in order to pay $5 million (£2.54m) in compensation to a soldier’s father who sued them for protesting outside his son’s funeral.

At an earlier hearing last October Albert Synder was awarded the damages for emotional distress and invasion of privacy.

Mathew Snyder, 20, was killed in Iraq in a non combat vehicle accident in Al Anbar province.

Seven people marched on public city property outside Snyder’s funeral waving placards declaring such messages as “Thank God for dead soldiers.”

They also wrote about the family on the church’s website, claiming that the soldier’s parents: “taught Matthew to defy his creator, to divorce, and to commit adultery.

“They taught him how to support the largest paedophile machine in the history of the entire world, the Roman Catholic monstrosity.”