America

'Angels' Will Counter Westboro Baptist Protests At Arizona Victims' Funerals

Outraged at the news that members of the tiny Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., will try to get attention for their anti-abortion views by protesting outside the funerals of 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green and the five others killed in Saturday's Arizona shooting rampage, people in Tucson and local lawmakers there are organizing to counter any such actions.

CNN reports that there are plans for an "angel action." Volunteers will wear "8- by 10-foot 'angel wings' ... to shield mourners from pickets." The funerals begin Thursday.

Local news station ABC-15 adds that "Arizona Lawmakers are hoping some quick action Tuesday will [also] protect mourners from protesters." Arizona State Representative Kyrsten Sinema has drafted legislation that would require any protesters to stay at least 300 feet away.

There are several Facebook pages up and running, including "Fight the Westboro Baptist Church in Tucson with Love," where you can join others who object to Westboro Baptist's plans.

Westboro Baptist, led by Fred Phelps, has been showing up in recent years at soldiers' funerals and other high-profile services to push its views — and blame the deaths on America's supposedly sin-driven society. It has even said "thank God for the shooter" in the Arizona tragedy.

Update at 4:15 p.m. ET. From Arizona, reporter Alan Greenblatt files this addition:

"Several other states have passed bans on political protests at funerals, triggering First Amendment challenges. Scott Bundgaard, a Republican who serves as the Arizona Senate majority leader, said he's confident the current legislation will pass constitutional muster.

" 'Today, the entire legislature is supportive of passing a bill to empower private property rights of these folks so that they can set up a perimeter allowing people to mourn without being harassed,' Bundgaard said. 'It's sad that the legislature even has to deal with something like this at this time'."

"The legislation will give law enforcement clear guidelines for policing the funerals and avoiding any incidents from occurring on the scene — the scenario legislators most want to avoid, says state Rep. Daniel Patterson, a Tucson Democrat whose district overlaps with that of wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

"The fact that the bill has garnered strong support from both sides of the aisle, Patterson says, makes him hopeful that it could help foster a tone of civility, which Arizona politics has lacked in recent years. 'This will probably be the first thing we've done in a long time with broad bipartisan support,' he said."

Update at 6:16 p.m. ET: The Arizona Republic reports both the state house and senate have unanimously passed a law creating a "funeral protection zone." The paper reports:

It was a bipartisan show of support for the victims of the Tucson shooting, and it passed both chambers of the Legislature on a unanimous vote.

The bill is on its way to to Gov. Jan Brewer, who is expected to sign it later today.

Update at 1:35 p.m. ET, Jan. 12: An e-mailer raises a good point. Westboro Baptist members protest about more than abortion. They are well-known, for example, for believing that homosexuality is a sin — and for leveling anti-gay slurs at homosexuals.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.