A small Kansas church known for its anti-gay protests said Wednesday it will still picket on the day of soldiers’ funerals but won’t violate new state laws that limit when and where such demonstrations take place.
“We’re not going to get arrested. We obey the law,” said Shirley Phelps-Roper, an attorney and member of Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, a fundamentalist congregation headed by her father, the Rev. Fred Phelps.
Westboro Baptist has outraged mourning communities across the nation by showing up at soldiers’ funerals with signs that read “God Hates Fags” or “God Made IEDs,” a reference to roadside bombs. Members of the congregation contend soldiers are being struck down by God for defending a nation that tolerates homosexuality.
In response, several states have passed or considered legislation restricting when and where pickets may demonstrate at funerals. Violators can be fined or jailed.
Westboro Baptist canceled demonstrations at funerals this past week in Oklahoma, Indiana, Missouri and Wisconsin, which have new laws limiting such protests.
Phelps-Roper cited a variety of reasons for the cancellations and said the group still plans to picket in states that have new laws.
She also said the church is considering legal challenges to the laws. “We’re waiting until all the legislatures are over to see what tattered shreds they’ve left the Constitution in,” she said.
Oklahoma’s law bars protests an hour before or after a funeral service and keeps picketers at least 500 feet away from a church or cemetery where the funeral is being held. Missouri and Wisconsin approved similar laws, and Indiana’s law makes disorderly conduct within 500 feet of a funeral a felony punishable by fines and prison time.