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Congress Moves To Limit Phelps Clan


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Congress Moves To Limit Phelps Clan

by The Associated Press

May 10, 2006 - 1:00 pm ET

(Washington) The House of Representatives has voted to restrict demonstrations at military funerals, a measure aimed at a Kansas church group that has carried its anti-gay message to the last rites for those killed in Iraq.

“We will not allow the repugnant acts of a few to define who we are as Americans,” said Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Steve Buyer, R-Ind., before the 408-3 vote on the “Respect for America's Fallen Heroes Act.” Buyer spoke at a news conference joined by motorcyclists who attend military funerals to shield families from the anti-gay protesters.

Protesters, led by the Rev. Fred Phelps of Topeka, Kan., claim that U.S. military deaths in Iraq are a sign of divine punishment for America's tolerance of gays.

Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., chief sponsor of the bill, said he took up the issue after attending a military funeral in his home state where mourners where greeted by “chants and taunting and some of the most vile things I have ever heard.”

Under the legislation, unapproved demonstrations would be banned at Arlington National Cemetery and other federal burial grounds. It also bars protests within 500 feet of a military cemetery from 60 minutes before to 60 minutes after a funeral if those protests involve disruptive noises or other disturbances.

Those violating the act, which still needs Senate approval, would face up to a $100,000 fine and up to a year in prison.

The measure urges states to pass similar legislation to cover nonfederal cemeteries. More than a dozen states are considering laws aimed at funeral protesters.

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a federal lawsuit against a new Kentucky law, saying it goes too far in limiting freedom of speech and expression. Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, said the House bill was crafted to meet constitutional standards for “a reasonable time, place and manner restriction.”

Phelps heads the Westboro Baptist Church, which is not affiliated with a larger denomination and is made up mostly of Phelps' extended family.

Phelps, in a telephone interview, described Congress as “an American Taliban” that is “patently, blatantly violating the First Amendment.” The nation, he said, “is rapidly reduced to having as much liberty as a frog in a snake's belly.”

He said that if the bill becomes law he will continue to demonstrate but will abide by the 500-foot restriction. During the 1990s, the church group also picketed the funerals of those who died of AIDS and gay murder victim Matthew Shepard.

His group has carried signs saying “God Hates You” and “Thank God for IEDs” – the improvised explosive devices responsible for killing many military personnel in Iraq.

In response, a motorcycle group, the Patriot Guard Riders, has begun appearing at funerals to pay respects to the fallen service member and protect the family from protesters.

“We turn our back to them and let the police deal with them,” said Frank Baranyai, a Navy veteran from Leesburg, Va., who heads the Virginia chapter of the group. He said there are about 30,000 participants nationwide.

©365Gay.com 2006


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