Controversial Church to picket Marine's funeral
A fringe Kansas church that claims Americans soldiers deserve to die in Iraq because the church was the target of a bombing attempt plans to demonstrate at the funeral of a Moorhead soldier.
Sgt. Bryan Opskar was killed on July 23 when a roadside bomb exploded. A military spokesman says the 32-year-old Marine was conducting combat operations near Ar Rutbah, Iraq.
Ten members of the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) of Topeka, Kansas, plan to picket for 30 minutes before Opskar's funeral in Moorhead on Tuesday, said Shirley Phelps-Roper, church attorney and daughter of church minister Fred Phelps.
The church operates at least two Web sites — godHatesAmerica.com and GodHatesFags.com — and links soldiers' deaths in Iraq to a bomb that exploded on its compound in 1995.
A news release from the church says Opskar was killed by "by an IED (improvised explosive devices), like the IED America used to bomb our church, in a terroristic attempt to stop WBC's anti-gay preaching."
"We may be pardoned for seeing a direct correlation between the Improvised Explosive Devices killing American kids in Iraq and the IED that nearly killed a sleeping Westboro baby August 20th 1995," the release said.
Phelps-Roper said the group pickets only public funerals where the military promotes the war and downplays the situation in Iraq.
The funeral of Opskar, of the 2nd Marine Division out of Camp Lejeune, N.C., is scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday at Trinity Lutheran Church.
The Moorhead Police Department will send more officers to Opskar's funeral to prevent any conflict between the mourners and the picketers, said police Sgt. Chris Carey. Police also will videotape the picketing, he said.
Carey also advised mourners to ignore the picketers.
"If somebody was to address the West Baptist Church, they're playing right into what they would like," he said. "The best thing to do is ignore the message they're sending. They're an extremely small minority from the United States that feels that way."
In 1998, the church picketed the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a gay college student whose murder sparked a national outcry for hate-crimes legislation. Phelps has gained national attention staging protests -- and threatening to stage protests -- at funerals and other public events. He has appeared in Minnesota before.
More recently, the group carried signs that read "America is Doomed" and "God Hates Fags" at a soldier's funeral in Oklahoma last week.
A statement on the group's Web site GodHatesAmerica.com explains the church's position:
Thank God for IEDs killing American soldiers in strange lands every day. WBC rejoices every time the Lord God in His vengeance kills or maims an American soldier with an Improvised Explosive Device (IED). "The righteous shall rejoice when he seeth the vengeance: he shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked" (Ps. 58:10). This nation bombed and raided the Westboro Baptist Church, and now the Holy God that Inhabits Eternity is repaying those heinous acts with His retaliatory wrath; "Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord" (Rom. 12:19). To most effectively cause America to know her abominations (Ez. 16:2), WBC will picket the funerals of these Godless, fag army American soldiers when their pieces return home. WBC will also picket their landing spot, in Dover, Delaware early and often.