Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas abandons plans to protest at funerals in 4 states to avoid getting arrested
TULSA, Okla. A Kansas church that spreads its anti-gay message by picketing at soldiers’ funerals will obey new state laws that have been passed to prohibit these protests, a church attorney said Wednesday.
The Topeka, Kan.-based Westboro Baptist Church aborted plans to demonstrate at soldiers’ funerals in Oklahoma, Indiana, Missouri and Wisconsin this past week. All four states have new laws limiting such protests.
“We’re not going to get arrested. We obey the law,” said Shirley Phelps-Roper, who is also a church member. “We’re waiting until all the legislatures are over to see what tattered shreds they’ve left the Constitution in.”
Phelps-Jones said the group will eventually protest in states with the new laws, but it will find a way to obey those laws.
She said the group is considering mounting legal challenges to the new laws, which she said has drawn attention to the church and helped it spread its anti-gay message.
At least 17 states have considered legislation this year restricting protest activities around funerals.
“We’re thanking them kindly,” she said. “They drew a huge amount of attention to our message, and that’s all we’re doing is delivering a message.”
The church has outraged mourning communities across the nation by
showing up outside soldiers’ funerals with signs that read “God Hates Fags” or “God Made IEDs,” a reference to roadside bombs. The group’s message is that soldiers are being struck down by God because they’re fighting for a nation that tolerates homosexuality.
The Oklahoma Highway Patrol, sheriff’s deputies and police kept watch Tuesday over a Guymon church during the funeral of Army Spc. Joshua Michael Pearce, who was killed while fighting in Iraq. The group had threatened to challenge the law hastily signed Friday by Governor Brad Henry.
Oklahoma’s law bars protests an hour before or after a funeral service and keeps picketers at least 500 feet away from a church or cemetery where the funeral is being held. Missouri and Wisconsin approved similar laws, and Indiana’s law makes disorderly conduct within 500 feet of a funeral a felony punishable by fines and prison time.
Phelps-Roper called the lawmakers who have passed these laws “legislative Talibans” and said the church won $170,000 in legal fees when it successfully challenged a Kansas funeral protest law nearly a decade ago.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, March 10, 2006.