Anti-gay activists from the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, plan to protest at the collective funeral of the victims of the Bardstown house fire that killed 10 people last week.
The blaze, described as the deadliest in Kentucky in thirty years, killed six children, and left two others hospitalised. The cause of the fire has yet to be confirmed.
Lifelong resident Patsy Fiedler told the Lexington Herald Leader: “Look at what these people have lost and then they have somebody like that come in here. … I feel for them.”
Another local resident, James Hodge, told the Herald: “I don’t think it’s right”, whilst many other members of the community have expressed their concerns over the WBC’s presence in Bardstown to the police.
The Baptist group – slogan “God hates America, God Hates Fags” – believe that disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and the deaths of American soldiers in Iraq war are due to the “moral downfall” of the country.
The controversial church appears at high-profile funerals in order to gain publicity for their cause, despite laws banning such demonstrations.
They and their leader Rev Fred Phelps first came to prominence at the funeral of Matthew Shepard in 1999.
Matthew, murdered in a homophobic attack, brought the issue of gay hate to prominence in America, leading to attempts to introduce hate crime legislation.
Phelps and his followers waved placards at the funeral reading: “Matt Shepard rots in Hell” and “AIDS Kills Fags Dead”
Fred Phelps and his followers show no signs of calling off the demonstration at the funeral of the fire victims, regardless of the sentiments of local people.
The WBC say on their website that: “the Messengers of God do not stop preaching the truth just because you pass laws,” and maintains that: “death time is truth time.”
An attorney for the WBC said that the protest would not be disrespectful to mourners, as it would be peaceful, and remain in the public right-of-way without interrupting the ceremony.
Despite this, all of the local police officers will be on duty on Saturday in case of any disturbances.
Bardstown’s Police Chief Charles Marksbury has also asked for assistance from the Nelson Country Sheriff’s Department and the Kentucky State Police.