Westboro Baptist Church Target of New Law Banning Protest at Ariz. Shooting Victims' Funerals
Unanimous votes by the House and Senate sent the bill to Gov. Jan Brewer, who signed it Tuesday evening. The four-paragraph bill took effect immediately, making it a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail to picket or conduct other protest activities within 300 feet of a funeral or burial service.
The Westboro Baptist Church, led by Pastor Fred Phelps of Topeka, Kan., previously made headlines for their controversial protests at soldiers' funerals and said Monday that it planned to picket Thursday's funeral for 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green because "God sent the shooter to deal with idolatrous America."
According to Brewer, the bill "will assure that the victims of Saturday's tragic shooting in Tucson will be laid to rest in peace with the full dignity and respect that they deserve."
However, Shirley Phelps-Roper, a church member and the pastor's daughter, said the prohibition wouldn't matter because church members plan to picket more than 1,000 feet from the church where the girl's service will be held.
Sen. Paula Aboud, a Tucson Democrat, said volunteers were organizing a human shield to block protesters from the view of victims' family members.
Several states have passed laws restricting protests at funerals after members of the fundamentalist church began protesting across the nation with signs like "Thank God for Dead Soldiers" and "God Hates the USA" to demonstrate their view that U.S. deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq are God's retribution for American immorality and tolerance of homosexuality and abortion.
Green was the youngest of the six people killed during the shooting at an event held Saturday by U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was among 14 people injured.