Military Funeral Protests Outrage Families, Lawmakers


They've appeared at military funerals across the country, armed with signs reading "God Hates You" and "Thank God for Dead Soldiers."

Members of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., have outraged family members and communities alike with their antics. They say America's war casualties are God's wrath for tolerating homosexuality.

Now they're getting their wish for a federal-level fight.

After attending a funeral in Michigan on Saturday where hundreds of veterans and other supporters of the soldier's family countered the protesters, Republican Rep. Mike Rogers plans to introduce legislation against the demonstrations, possibly as soon as Thursday.

It would restrict protests at funerals at national cemeteries for 60 minutes before and after a service, and require protesters to remain 500 feet or more from the grave site or individuals at the funeral.

"American families burying their husbands or wives and sons or daughters who died while fighting for their nation are being subjected to horrible verbal and visual attacks by protesters," said a statement by Rogers, who served as a funeral officer during his own service in the U.S. Army. "No grieving family should be faced with such disrespect or threats and intimidation."

Church Members Welcome Challenge

Shirley Phelps-Roper, a lawyer for the church members and daughter of its leader, the Rev. Fred Phelps, said the group was ready for a First Amendment fight.

"We've been just pining for, so hoping that someone in the United States House or Senate would get busy and get something going to dismantle the First Amendment at the federal level," Phelps-Roper said.

"Little Mr. Mike Rogers does not like some words on some placards on a public street," she said. "He's ready to give away the crowning jewel of all of our freedoms."

Rogers told ABC News that the law would allow freedom of expression while still protecting the soldiers' families.

"I think it clearly passes muster because the Supreme Court has ruled that time, place and manner can be regulated," he said. "You can't regulate their content."

Phelps-Roper said members of the church believed that Americans had turned their backs on God and that Hurricane Katrina, Iraq casualties, STDs, bird flu and other tragedies were God's payback. She said that America had been "duped" into the war, that it was not winnable, and that she blamed the families for sending their loved ones to fight.

The group began protesting soldier funerals in June and has been to about 35 states since then, she said. Members gained attention in the past for protesting at funerals of those who died from AIDS and at the service for Matthew Shepard, the Wyoming college student beaten to death because he was gay.

Protesting the Protests

Several states have passed laws limiting the group's funeral protests, including Indiana, Oklahoma, Missouri and Wisconsin earlier this month. Other states are considering legislation, and Rogers said he was eager for states to use his bill as a model "to make sure they are compliant with First Amendment concerns."

Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, has signed on as co-sponsor of the federal bill, and Rogers has been crafting its language with Steve Buyer, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. He expects it to have broad bipartisan support.

  • 1
  • |
  • 2
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...