U.K. government bans anti-gay U.S. pastor

Posted on 24 Feb 2009 at 12:46am
By Raphael G. Satter Associated Press

Phelps’ group had planned to go to Great Britian to protest production of ‘The Laramie Project’

LONDON — Britain’s government has banned anti-gay American pastor Fred Phelps from the country on the grounds that he worked to incite hatred, an official said Thursday, Feb. 19.

Britain’s Border Agency said Phelps and his daughter, Shirley Phelps-Roper, would be turned back at the border if they attempted to enter the country — although it was unclear whether either of them intended to travel to Britain.

Phelps, who leads a tiny but fanatically anti-gay church in Topeka, Kan., is particularly notorious for picketing the funerals of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq — deaths he believes are the result of God’s fury at homosexuality.

"The government has made it clear it opposes extremism in all its forms," the border agency said in a statement. "The exclusions policy is targeted at all those who seek to stir up tension and provoke others to violence regardless of their origins and beliefs."

Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church issued a news release Thursday saying it learned about the decision from a British newspaper report. The church said in its release: "God hates the UK — Land of the Sodomite Damned."

Church spokeswoman and attorney Shirley Phelps-Roper, a daughter of the pastor, said in an interview Thursday night that the British government did the church a favor because of the publicity created by the ban.

"We prepared ourselves to go over there and they took the burden off our backs," Phelps-Roper said. "We don’t have to go there and stand on their ground for the word to get out. They do it for us."

She said some church members still planned to try to enter Britain, but she wouldn’t provide details other than to say it wouldn’t be her or her father.

"All they did was create a huge door for the word of God to get through. The more they mess with us, we get the publicity," Phelps-Roper said. "They don’t have any understanding of these things because they are Bible ignorant."

A Border Agency spokesman said Phelps had called for protests at a play about the murder of a gay man due to be shown in the English town of Basingstoke, about 50 miles west of central London.

The play, "The Laramie Project," reflects on the 1998 slaying of Matthew Shepard, whose death shocked the country and prompted a re-evaluation of its attitude toward gays and lesbians.

It also propelled Phelps into the national spotlight when members of his Westboro Baptist Church horrified onlookers by showing up at Shepard’s funeral with signs bearing the words: "God Hates Fags" and chanting: "Fags die, God laughs."

Phelps and his few dozen followers — most of the them relatives — went on to picket thousands more funerals and memorials for gays, victims of Sept. 11, and soldiers killed in Iraq, drawing outrage — and lawsuits — across the country.

The British government’s decision to exclude Phelps comes shortly after it was criticized for excluding a far-right Dutch lawmaker from the country on similar grounds.

Geert Wilders was turned back at London’s Heathrow Airport last week. British authorities said the politician — who has called for a ban on the Koran — posed a threat to public security.

Associated Press Writer Carl Manning in Topeka, Kan., contributed to this report.

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