Lawmakers Stop Westboro Church From Picketing Funeral of Tucson Shooting's Youngest Victim

Ariz. Passes Law to Ban Funeral Protests
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Arizona lawmakers successfully curbed members of the Westboro Baptist church from picketing the funeral of the Tucson massacre's youngest victim, Christina-Taylor Green.

On Tuesday afternoon, Gov. Jan Brewer signed a new law that requires protesters to remain 300 feet from a funeral site. The law, which took effect immediately after it was signed, took only 90 minutes to pass in Arizona's legislature. Triggered by Westboro's plans to picket the funeral of 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Thursday, the law passed by a unanimous vote.

The law assures that "the victims of Saturday's tragic shooting in Tucson will be laid to rest in peace with the full dignity and respect that they deserve," Brewer said in a statement. She praised lawmakers for "a remarkable spirit of unity and togetherness."

Today, Westboro Baptist Church spokeswoman Shirley Phelps-Roper said that church members would skip Thursday's funeral altogether in exchange for air time on two radio stations, The Associated Press reported.

Westboro Baptist Church, based in Topeka, Kan., is the offshoot group of fundamentalist pastor Fred Phelps. It frequently pickets soldiers' funerals, political rallies and gay rights gatherings. Church members have long said they're exercising their First Amendment rights.

The group still plans to picket Friday's funeral of U.S. District Judge John Roll, and at the intersection where Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others were shot. Six people died when a gunman attempting to assassinate Giffords went on a shooting rampage at political gathering outside a Tucson grocery store.

Arizona State Rep. Kyrsten Sinema drafted the legislation that requires the Westboro protestors to stay 300 feet away from a funeral from an hour before it starts until an hour after it ends, ABC Affiliate KNXV reported Tuesday.

"I'm a strong advocate of the First Amendment, and the bottom line is this, Fred Phelps and his group of people can still spew their hate if they want. They just don't get to do it close to the families that are grieving. They have to be farther away," Sinema told KNXV.

'Divine Guard' to Counter Westboro

Following the shooting, Phelps and his church released a video praising alleged gunman, Jared Loughner, and announcing plans to picket the funerals.

"However many are dead, Westboro Baptist Church will picket their funerals," said Phelps in a video on the church's website. "We will remind the living that you can still repent and obey. This is ultimatum time with God."

Christin Gilmer, a Tucson resident, was so outraged by the church's plan to protest, she organized thousands to line the streets wearing all white to counter picketers.

"How dare you come with your hateful message when we're in mourning," Gilmer said. "Nobody comes into our beautiful town and tries to spew hate at the celebration and memorial of someone's life."

Gilmer praised lawmakers and said that her group will still be at Christina's funeral and the funeral of other victims in case Westboro members decide to protest.

"The fact that they're not protesting Christina's funeral shows me that we already made a diference," Gilmer said. "We'll still be there and we'll still be prepared."

Gilmer, 26, knew Gabriel Zimmerman, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' staff member who died in the rampage, and became nauseated when she learned of his death.

"I was in shock and just kept crying and crying," Gilmer said.

Gilmer sent a Facebook message to 90 of her friends Sunday. The message spread to thousands of others, and hundreds volunteered to help and donate money to the "divine guard."

"It's going to be a silent, counter protest. It's not about us. It's about protecting the family," Gilmer said.

Of the more than 3,000 people who have committed to donning white, 30 of them will wear angel wings with the idea of blocking the Westboro protesters' signs.

"We're hoping to have people dressed in white, lining the streets to show a brightness and hope, to show ...Tucson that we love you ... and we support them," Gilmer said.

The 30 "angels" have undergone training.

"When you train people to be angels, they are helped with understanding what they're going to be facing. They're given meditation techniques. They're taught ways to avoid violence ... ways to avoid confrontation," said Katerina Sinclair of the University of Arizona's Frances McClelland Institute for Children, Youth and Families, who will lead the training.

Sinclair said the use of the angel wings is a tool that's been used to counter the Westboro Baptist Church since it protested Matthew Shepherd's funeral in 1998.

"Their job is to stand there, block the signs, and they're the angels that stand between hate and everyone else. They don't engage, they don't respond. It's kind of like having a very divine guard," said Sinclair.

Gilmer herself, though, will not be among them.

"I'll organize it, but I don't think I can handle it. It's a little too close to home," she said. "If Westboro said something ... I would probably want to respond."

Gilmer said that her group stands ready to counter any Westboro picketers at any sites related to the shooting.

"If there's a threat of them, we'll be there," Gilmer said. "They're going to bring hate, intolerance, ignorance ... we're going to bring love."

ABC News' Russell Goldman contributed to this report.

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