A group from the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas has been traveling across the country, rallying and staging anti-gay protests at funerals. The group is expected to hold its next demonstration the weekend of March 9th at a funeral in Bardstown, Kentucky where ten family members who perished in a recent house fire in Bardstown.
Westboro Baptist Church is a religious organization in Topeka, Kansas headed by Fred Phelps. The church is an independent Baptist church not affiliated with any known Baptist conventions or associations. The group came into the national spotlight in 1998, when they were featured on CNN for picketing the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a young gay man from Wyoming who was murdered by two young males. According to sources on Wikipedia, One of Westboro’s followers estimated that the church spends a quarter of a million dollars a year travelling around the world to picket.
Kentucky law enforcement officials are prepared for the potential protest. “We are united in grieving for this family and community,” said Attorney General Stumbo. “The law provides protections against disorderly conduct and forbids interference with funerals.”
An advisory has been issued from the Attorney General to the Bardstown Police Department, the Nelson County Sheriff’s Department and the Commissioner of the Kentucky State Police.
The advisory includes information regarding protestor rights at funerals. Under the law, a person is guilty of interference with a funeral when he or she blocks, inhibits, or in any other manner obstructs or interferes with access into of from any building or parking lot of a building in which a funeral, wake, memorial service, or burial is being conducted.
Local law enforcement must strive to maintain balance between the federal laws and appeasing the needs of the community. “Local law enforcement officials are struggling to abide by the federal court ruling while maintaining law and order,” said Attorney General Stumbo. “It is critical that the rights of grieving families and communities are protected.”
In the Attorney General’s Law Enforcement Advisory Regarding Funeral Protests, the Attorney General, Gregory D. Stumbo states “The key then is whether the protestor blocks access to a funeral or ‘engages in fighting or in violent, tumultuous, or threatening behavior; makes unreasonable noise; or creates a hazardous or physically offensive condition by any act that serves no legitimate purpose;” and knows that they are within 300 feet of the places designated to the statue.”
The Attorney General, Gregory D. Stumbo also advises, “In short, peaceful demonstrations and protests must be allowed to continue without arrest no matter how offensive and objectionable the speech.”
More information may be obtained on Kentucky.gov