Anti-gay church plans to picket Elizabeth Edwards’ funeral


RALEIGH, N.C. — News that a Kansas church known for its provocative disruptions of soldiers’ burials plans to picket Saturday’s funeral in Raleigh for Elizabeth Edwards has sparked outrage.

Several groups are using social media to plan counter-protests against members of Westboro Baptist Church.

The tiny church, whose congregation largely consists
of the extended family of its pastor, came into the national spotlight
when members picketed the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a young man from Wyoming who was beaten to death by two men because of his homosexuality.

Westboro has since courted media attention for its
message — that God hates gay people — by protesting at the funerals of
soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as famous people such as Fred Rogers, Coretta Scott King and Jerry Falwell.

The group notified Raleigh police Thursday that it intended to picket Edwards’ funeral.

The news release issued by the church announcing its
plan suggested that God killed Edwards’ 16-year-old son in 1996 and
gave her terminal breast cancer as punishment for her more recent
public support for government recognition of same-sex marriages.

After word spread that Westboro members were coming,
at least two groups were created on Facebook to organize protests aimed
at blunting the group’s message.

Ben Requena, a Raleigh
graphic artist, started one of the online groups. Within hours, more
than 500 people had indicated online that they intend to attend the

“It just seems like the right thing to do, to go out there and show support for human decency,” Requena said. “I didn’t know Elizabeth Edwards or have any special connection to her, but I’ve heard about Westboro’s antics.”

A second group calling itself “Line of Love” said it
intends to circle the block around Edenton Street United Methodist
Church to provide a human shield for the Edwards’ family.

Raleigh police spokesman Jim Sughrue said officers will work with both sides Saturday to maintain order.

The city code regarding protests gives no specific
distance that the protesters must stay away from the church, but it
does give police officers the authority to disperse any group that
blocks traffic or the entrance to a building. A city ordinance also
specifically bars counter-protesters from interfering with a group
lawfully exercising its First Amendment rights.


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