Church won't picket two Tucson funerals

Jan. 13, 2011 at 7:01 AM
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TUCSON, Jan. 13 (UPI) -- An anti-gay church will not picket Thursday's funeral of a 9-year-old girl killed in the Tucson shooting rampage because it got radio airtime, the church said.

"It's how many ears we can reach," Margie Phelps, a lawyer for the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., told the Los Angeles Times. "That is our job. That is our goal."

The church, headed by her father, disbarred lawyer Fred Phelps, and consisting mostly of members of his large family, also agreed not to protest Friday's funeral of shooting victim U.S. District Judge John Roll, Margie Phelps said.

The congregation is known for demonstrating at the funerals of U.S. soldiers, arguing their deaths are God's retribution for a nation that tolerates homosexuality. It is also known for its extremist opposition to Jews and considers membership in most religious groups, including the Roman Catholic Church, akin to devil worship.

The church originally said it would protest Christina Taylor Green's funeral because her family is Catholic and Roll's funeral because it felt his judicial colleagues had acted against the church, the Times said.

"The Steve Sanchez Show" on Christian radio station KXXT-AM, Tolleson, Ariz., agreed to give the church 30 minutes on the air in exchange for not protesting.

Sanchez told The Topeka Capital-Journal as a Christian he disagreed with the church but believed giving airtime to keep pickets away from Christina's funeral was a worthwhile sacrifice.

Syndicated radio host Mike Gallagher also agreed to give the church time on his show, distributed by Christian-secular broadcaster Salem Radio Network.

Republican Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed a bill into law Tuesday that requires protesters to remain at least 300 feet from a funeral site. The law, which took effect immediately, was prompted by Westboro's picket plans.

The church plans Friday to picket the site of Saturday's shooting spree, which left six dead and 14 wounded, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., a statement posted on the church's Web site said.

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