PARIS – Local people have responded with outrage to a Kansas church’s plan to picket a local soldier’s funeral this weekend, and while some have said they will stage counter protests, others are contemplating not responding at all.

“I believe you counter evil with good,” the Rev. Don Mayberry of the First Congregational Church in Paris said Monday. “I would just hope that good people would come out and support Corey’s family, and that we don’t give them any attention because they don’t deserve it.”

The Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., which has about 75 members, announced Sunday that it will send several delegates to Corey Dan’s funeral Saturday at the Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School to spread their message that God is killing American soldiers in retribution for the United States’ tolerance of homosexuality.

Dan, a 22-year-old sergeant with the 101st Airborne Division, was killed March 13 in Iraq. His body will be flown to the Manchester, N.H., airport this afternoon, and Weston-Chandler Funeral Homes will pick up the body and return to Paris.

“This nation is awash in idolatry and adultery, every manner of filthy abomination,” Shirley Phelps-Roper, a lawyer for the 50-year-old church and the pastor’s daughter, said Monday. “I am so sorry that these families arrange their affairs to bring the wrath of God down on their heads and their child’s head. They sent that child to the devil.”

When asked about the callousness of demonstrating while a family mourns, Phelps-Roper said, “It is insensitive to disobey God and make him raging mad.”

Paris Police Chief David Verrier said he is planning to mobilize the town’s entire police force of a dozen officers. Neighboring police departments might also be asked to help.

“I have already gotten calls that people plan to confront these picketers,” Verrier said Monday. “I am telling them that they have a legal right to picket, and we can’t stop them from picketing.” But he is encouraging everyone to be peaceful.

Sharon Bouchard, Dan’s grandmother, said that while she respects the picketers’ right to free speech, she questions their judgment. “They have no respect for the sorrows a family is going through, and they’ll use this funeral to further their own ridiculously warped agenda.”

A nationwide biking group called the Patriot Guard Riders has started gathering its forces to also attend the memorial service.

“What we do is provide a visual shield if you will,” spokesman Kurt Mayer said Monday from Houston, Texas. He said up to 100 people could travel to Paris on Saturday to stand between the family and the church group, holding a sea of flags to block the church members’ signs and banners. Sometimes they rev their bike engines to drown out chanting.

Mayer said Patriot Guard Riders, which nationwide has about 19,000 members and between 75 and 100 in Maine, was formed last fall in response to the Westboro church’s activities. Its members have attended over 100 events, Mayer said.

“We don’t call that a counter protest,” Mayer said. “We’re not making a statement or response to the group’s message, we’re standing with the family as members of the family.”

But the group only goes to funerals if the family invites them, Mayer said.

Bouchard said she thought her family would agree to their presence, but she questioned the engine revving. Mayer said the group won’t do anything the family does not want.

Verrier said he will try to convince the protesters to stay away from the school and remain within the confines of a parking lot across the street, depending on the property owner’s permission.

Members of the Westboro Baptist Church traveled to Maine once before, in 2000, to denounce some Kennebunk churches’ support for equal rights for gays.

“The whole town rose up to contend with us,” Phelps-Roper said.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.