Anti-gay church protests U.S. at military funerals

Tuesday, August 9, 2005

U.S. veterans groups and Midwest politicians are angered by the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church's recent practice of protesting at the funerals of U.S. soldiers killed in the Iraq War.

The Topeka, Kansas-based church led by Fred Phelps sent 6 protestors with picket signs to the memorial service of 49 Ohio servicemen killed in Iraq. They were members of the Third Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment of Brook Park, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland.

Last week at the August 5 funeral of Army Specialist Adam Harding in the Chicago suburb of Portage, Indiana, the Westboro church sent ten protesters. Harding died in Iraq July 25 when the convoy he was in hit a roadside bomb.

According to reports, the picket signs at the funeral carried such messages as, "Thank God for 9/11," "God is U.S.A.’s Terrorist," "God hates you," "Thank God for dead soldiers" and "America is Doomed." Despite the tone of the messages, church members say they are not protesting against the Iraq War, but against homosexuality. Neither Harding nor any of the 49 Ohio servicemen killed are reported to have been homosexual.

In Ohio, many of the funeral attendees cursed the protesters, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times.

A report from the Chicago Tribune said Westboro church spokeswoman Shirley Phelps-Roper said the church is delivering the church's message that it believes America is doomed and that they single out military funerals because soldiers, like all Americans, are being taught to accept homosexual behavior and other acts it calls sinful.

"This nation has angered the Lord their God and the wrath of god is pouring out on them. God is dealing with this nation, and you can't do one thing to stop it or stop him from blowing those young people to pieces," Phelps Roper said in an interview with CBS affiliate WBBM-TV in Chicago.

Church members say they are expressing their First Amendment rights to protest as they see fit.

But Chicago-area veterans associations held a press conference Monday denouncing the funeral protesters. "Those who are protecting our nation provide the fundamental right of the First Amendment. But to protest at funerals is wrong," Chicago Alderman James Balcer, a veteran of the Vietnam War, reportedly said.

Balcer said the Westboro church should apologize to veterans for its actions.