Phelps' church protested several times in Mid-Missouri
Kansas pastor dies at age 84
Friday, March 21, 2014
Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church members brought their special protest message and prophecy to Mid-Missouri for at least four funerals in the past 15 years.
Phelps -- the fiery founder of the small Kansas church who led outrageous and hate-filled protests that blamed almost everything, including the deaths of AIDS victims and U.S. soldiers, on America’s tolerance for gay people -- has died at age 84.
The News Tribune’s electronic archives — which began in March 1999 — show that nine Westboro members staged a “religious protest” outside Jefferson City’s Main Post Office, 131 W. High St., during Gov. Mel Carnahan’s funeral in October 2000.
They held signs and told passersby not to “worship the dead,” while many who walked past the protesters told the Topeka, Kan., group they should “be ashamed of themselves” and “were being disrespectful.”
After a similar protest at the August 2005 funeral for Spec. Edward Myers, St. Joseph, who was killed in Iraq, state lawmakers began talking about restricting the protests — and passed a bill in February 2006.
That law banned picketing and protests “in front of or about” any church, cemetery or funeral establishment, from one hour before a funeral until one hour after it ends.
A second law passed that spring placed a 300-foot buffer zone around a funeral and the buildings and cemeteries it was being held in.
Then-Gov. Matt Blunt supported the first bill, saying: “The families of those who are grieving deserve the protection of the bill as soon as possible.”
But Fred Phelps’ daughter, Shirley Phelps-Roper, who is an attorney, countered that Missouri officials were “not any different than the Taliban in Afghanistan — they don’t like words on a placard, so they’re willing to give away the freedoms they claim those young people have died for.”
The church challenged the state law in federal court, eventually winning a ruling that Missouri’s law violated their constitutional free-speech rights.
Meanwhile, the Westboro group came to three different Mid-Missouri soldiers’ funerals in 2006.
In April, 16 church members were in Eugene for the services honoring Lance Corporal Darin Settle, 23.
But, a News Tribune story of that funeral reported, “About 200 members of the Patriot Guard, veterans organizations, the Eugene community and individuals came to protect Settle’s survivors from sight or sound of the Topeka, Kan., protesters.”
Margie Phelps, another Westboro member and attorney, told reporters: “If the family doesn’t want to grieve in private, they shouldn’t have turned this into a public platform.
“This is a patriotic pep rally — that makes it public.”
A month later, the funeral was for Marine Lance Cpl. Leon Deraps, 19, Jamestown.
The newspaper reported: “Protesters from the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas were outnumbered by motorcyclists of the Patriot Guard and other supporters of Deraps’ family” who had assembled outside the Jamestown School, where the visitation was held.
In October, Missouri Army National Guard Sgt. Lawrence “Larry” Lee Roy Parrish, 36, was remembered in services at Versailles High School. Again, the the Patriot Guard surrounded the high school holding large American flags as a handful of Westboro members picketed.
During the church’s legal challenge to the 2006 Missouri laws, Shirley Phelps-Roper came to Jefferson City in 2009 to give her deposition with members of Attorney General Chris Koster’s staff.
Church members traveled with her, and staged protests at Lincoln University, Jefferson City High School, Temple Beth-El, Helias High School and William Woods University.
After a 2010 federal court ruling upheld the Westboro church’s challenge to the 2006 state law, lawmakers have been working to find new language that can allow the protests and still preserve the funerals’ solemnity.
The Missouri House this year has been asked to approve two bills, but neither has been scheduled yet for a committee hearing.
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