The church has protested at five military funerals in Indiana and has demonstrated at about 80 funerals in 30 states since June, said Shirley Phelps-Roper, a member of and lawyer for Westboro Baptist.
She has vowed to challenge Steele's bill if it becomes law.
"Since God is punishing this nation by blowing the fruit of America to pieces and sending them home in body bags, our forum of choice must be those funerals, and it doesn't matter what Brent Steele likes," Phelps-Roper said. "He does not get to call our protected right to free speech disorderly conduct. It will never work."
After studying Steele's bill, Robert D. Richards, a First Amendment expert, said that's likely true.
"This is restricting speech because it is offensive," said Richards, a founder of the Pennsylvania Center for the First Amendment at Penn State University. "The law is pretty clear in this country that you cannot punish speech because it's offensive.
"It's almost a paradigm violation of the First Amendment."
i hadn't thought of it that way. what exactly is the state's interest in banning disorderly conduct at funerals? i understand the compelling state interest in doing so at airports: that's for security purposes. (i don't quite agree with limiting freedom in exchange for security, but i understand how disorderly conduct at the airport could be dangerous.) but at a funeral? i don't really see and compelling state interest there: the state just wants to protect mourners' feelings. and unfortunately, the constitution does not promise freedom from getting your feelings hurt, no matter how big an asshole the other guy is.
the story also has a few details about yesterday's protest, and interviews with mourners and families of the GIs whose funerals have been picketed, not all of whom agree with the proposed law:
Even the Doyle family can't agree on the bill.
"My personal opinion is that if we're going to have these kids over there fighting for freedom, then sometimes you have to put up with freedoms you don't really like," said John Doyle, Sandy's husband and Jeremy's father. "I'm the minority in my family on this, for sure."
and if you can find a password you can read this story in the topeka capital-journal about the planned protest of the coal miners' funeral:
West Virginia residents say they are outraged by an announced picket by members of Topeka's Westboro Baptist Church at a memorial service this coming weekend honoring 12 fallen coal miners.
The memorial service, which will take place Sunday afternoon in Buckhannon, W.Va., will honor the 12 men who died in last week's tragedy in a coal mine at Tallmansville, W.Va.
Westboro Baptist Church, which has gained nationwide attention since the early 1990s for its anti-homosexual demonstrations, said it would have 16 members on hand to picket the service.
"It's very insulting, and it's disrespectful," said Tammy O'Bryan, who identified herself as a coal miner's daughter and wife in a phone interview Monday from her home in Crab Orchard, W.Va. "I think your town, your state, owes us an apology."
"We produce energy for your community, and this is the kind of thanks we get?" O'Bryan said. "It's inexcusable."
O'Bryan, whose brother also is a coal miner, said Sunday's protest could bring out the "hillbilly" in West Virginians.
"Send 'em on," O'Bryan said. "Because they won't come back in the same condition."
Shirley Phelps-Roper, a Westboro Baptist Church member, said she had received "dozens" of calls from irate people in West Virginia the past few days.
shirley phelps-roper isn't just a member. she is also fred phelps's daughter. she even admits to the evansville courier-press (another site you'll need a password for) that 80% of the congregation consists of phelps's family. calling these people "fringe" would be an insult to the actual fringe. they aren't fringe; they're in orbit.
"They have gotten word and they are making themselves heard," Phelps-Roper said. "What they say is, 'How could you come here?' "
Phelps-Roper said she replied to callers that the mining community invoked the name of God in thanks after reports surfaced that the 12 miners were alive, only to find out hours later they had died.
"He did not issue you a blessing," Phelps-Roper said she has told West Virginia callers. "He issued you a curse."
i wish i could think of some way to deal with these kinds of people... something that would shame them and shut them up without infringing everyone else's rights or resorting to gross violence. but i'm afraid they have no shame.¶