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Old 05-19-2007, 05:43
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Rocky Rocky is offline
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Thumbs down Funeral Protest

Group says it'll picket soldier's funeral
Friday, May 18, 2007

POCATELLO, Idaho (AP) -- A Kansas-based church group known for protesting at the funerals of soldiers killed in combat said it plans to picket an eastern Idaho soldier's funeral Saturday, well before an Idaho law designed to prevent such protests goes into effect.

Members of the Topeka-based Westboro Baptist Church, led by the Rev. Fred Phelps, have picketed burials around the United States, claiming the deaths are God's punishment for a nation harboring homosexuals.

The church faxed its intentions to the Pocatello Police Department on Wednesday.

Sgt. Blake C. Stephens, 25, of Pocatello, Idaho, died May 8 in Salman Pak, about 18 miles south of Baghdad, when a roadside bomb exploded near his vehicle.

"I think it's just ridiculous," Steve Bulluck, a friend of Stephens, told the Idaho State Journal. "(Stephens) fought for their freedoms, and they disgrace him by doing that."

Church members have protested at an Idaho soldier's funeral at least once before, carrying signs reading "God Loves Sept. 11" at the June 2005 funeral in Caldwell of Kerry French, the first female soldier from Idaho to die in Iraq.

Idaho lawmakers last March approved a law designed to prevent disruptions of funerals, but it doesn't go into effect until July 1.

"The protesters don't have the right to do that," said Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, who sponsored the bill and now wishes he had made it go into effect immediately. "The families have the right to mourn their loss."

Shirley Roper-Phelps, Fred Phelps' daughter and spokeswoman for his Kansas church, has said the church's protests are a form of religious expression protected by the Constitution.

"People can protest as long as they do it peacefully," said Maj. Mike Stayner of the Pocatello Police Department. "It just concerns us because when you see something like this it throws up a red flag."

The funeral is planned at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Stake Center in Pocatello.

Jim Blake, director of the POW/MIA Association, said the group will lead an honor guard of 100 to 150 motorcycles to and from the funeral service.

"We may end up having to provide (the protesters) security," said Blake. "We don't want this to be something that tarnishes that moment."

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