NORWAY – The anti-gay church group that had threatened to picket Sgt. Corey Dan’s funeral Saturday did not show up because they were busy elsewhere with their mission to denounce the United States’ leniency toward homosexuality.

Instead of disrupting Dan’s funeral, the church from Topeka, Kan., sent members to Lansing, Mich., and Denver, Colo., to hold up signs scrawled with “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” and “USA = Fag Nation.”

The church targets soldiers’ funerals because they see Iraq war casualties as signs of God’s fury with Americans. Lately, they have also been targeting state capitols to protest new legislation, prompted by their activities, that restricts picketing at funerals.

Church members picketed at a 22-year-old soldier’s funeral in Lansing on March 27, and then went on to the state capitol in Lansing to demonstrate against a recently adopted law that bars them from funerals. They sent 30 members to Denver on March 24.

“They had to reroute that group” away from Maine, Shirley Phelps-Roper, the church pastor’s daughter, said Monday. “Not that Maine doesn’t deserve the words.”

But she said church members did a lot of radio spots last week to communicate their warning. They managed to generate a lot of media buzz leading up to Dan’s funeral, an effective way to spread their message even without making an appearance in the state.

“With this community, it wouldn’t have made a darn bit of difference had they showed up,” said Sharon Bouchard, Dan’s grandmother, on Monday. “They would have been swallowed up in a sea of love and honor.”

Thousands of people poured out for the 22-year-old Norway soldier’s funeral at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School in Paris. Motorcycle riders also came in case they had to shield the family from the church group.

The 75-member church sent about 30 members to Denver to protest another proposed bill that would bar the group from soldiers’ funerals. Phelps-Roper said the church has about 60 members who travel, and that all expenses are paid for by the church.

“We all work,” she said. The church, founded by Rev. Fred Phelps 50 years ago, is made up almost entirely of his 13 children and other family, Phelps-Roper said. “Eighty percent in the church are related to me by blood or marriage,” she said.

On Monday, Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher signed a law to force protesters to keep their distance from military funerals. The measure is aimed at members of Westboro church and requires protesters to stay at least 300 feet from funerals or memorial services. Violators can get up to a year in jail.

Kentucky is one of five states that have enacted such laws, and a number of others are considering legislation.

The Westboro group has protested in several places in Kentucky, including Fort Campbell, home of the 101st Airborne Division of which Dan was a member.

Several other states are moving to pass legislation prohibiting protests at funerals. And at the federal level, U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Michigan, has introduced a similar bill, according to the Associated Press.

Phelps-Roper has said the group will obey state laws banning funeral protests. The group canceled plans to protest recently in Oklahoma, Indiana, Missouri and Wisconsin, all states that recently have passed laws banning funeral protests.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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.