Gay hate church gets taste of own medicine
More than 400 people converged on the small town of Topeka, Kansas on Sunday to protest outside the Westboro Baptist Church.
Straight, gay and trans protesters drew support from locals as they staged The Million Fag March outside the church, which is notorious for picketing the funerals of US soldiers killed in action.
“It’s about time we did something like this again,” local woman Hope Prescott told The Topeka Capital-Journal.
“We feel somewhat responsible for the Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church. It’s about time we show our support for gays rights and all rights.”
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.
It has about 75 members, the vast majority of whom are relatives of their leader the Rev Fred Phelps.
They 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.”
Sunday’s good-natured protest was organised by Chris Love, another Kandas resident.
“I invited Westboro to come out and join us, but they didn’t come,” he told the paper.
“I don’t think what we’re doing is going to change them. It’s just time to show people that not everyone in Kansas is like the Phelps’.
“We’re against everything that church does. The theory has been to ignore them, and they’ll go away.
“It’s been 20 years, and they’re still here. Now we are too.”
Last year the Phelps awoke to a pair of messages spray painted to a sign and a fence on the grounds of their Kansas church.
The message on the sign said, “God hates the Phelps,” while the message on the fence read, “God hates intolerance.”
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In April 2007 the Governor of Kansas signed into law a bill aimed at stopping WBC from protesting at the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq.
Kansas joined 16 other states in introducing local legislation to bar the hate group’s activities.
In November jury awarded the father of a Marine whose funeral was targeted WBC nearly $11m (£5.4m) in damages.
Albert Snyder claimed that protesters destroyed his only chance to bury in peace the son he lost in Iraq. He filed a complaint in June 2006.
During the civil trial in a Baltimore federal court, the jury considered whether Westboro Baptist Church was liable for an intentional infliction of emotional distress based on the message from its members’ signs.
The jurors decided the Snyder family’s expectation of privacy at Matthew Snyder’s funeral was violated by the church members’ protest.