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Motorcyclists Attend Soldier Funerals to Protest Fundamental

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katrina

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Motorcyclists Attend Soldier Funerals to Protest Fundamentalists

Associated Press



FORT CAMPBELL, Kentucky, Feb. 18 - Wearing leather chaps and vests covered in military patches, a band of motorcyclists rolls from one soldier's funeral to another in hopes their respectful cheers and revving engines will drown out the insults of protesters.

The motorcycle club members calling themselves Patriot Guard Riders are trying to shield mourners from cruel jeers by adherents of a tiny fundamentalist church who picket military funerals to reflect their belief that U.S. combat deaths are a sign God is punishing the United States for harboring homosexuals. Some protesters' signs said, "Thank God for IEDs," the improvised explosive devices, or homemade bombs, that kill many U.S. soldiers. "The most important thing we can do is let families know that the nation cares," said Don Woodrick, the biker group's Kentucky captain. "When a total stranger gets on a motorcycle in the middle of winter and drives 300 miles (480 kilometers) to hold a flag, that makes a powerful statement."


Across the nation, Patriot Guard Riders number more than 5,000. They show up at soldiers' funerals to chant patriotic slogans and wave red, white and blue flags in hopes of overshadowing backers of a Kansas clergyman named the Rev. Fred Phelps.

Phelps and members of his Westboro Baptist Church have caused such a fuss that at least 14 states are considering laws aimed at the funeral protests. During the 1990s, church members were known mostly for picketing funerals of AIDS victims, and they have long been tracked as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project in Montgomery, Alabama.

The project's deputy director, Heidi Beirich, said other groups have tried to counter Phelps' message, but none have been as organized as the Patriot Guard.

"I'm not sure anybody has gone to this length to stand in solidarity," she said. "It's nice that these veterans and their supporters are trying to do something. I can't imagine anything worse, your loved one is killed in Iraq and you've got to deal with Fred Phelps."

At a recent memorial service at Fort Campbell, church protesters and sang vulgar songs condemning homosexuals and soldiers. The Patriot Guard was also there, cheering to support mourning families across the street as community members came in a freezing rain to chant "U-S-A, U-S-A" alongside the bikers.

"This is just the right thing to do. This is something America didn't do in the '70s," said Kurt Mayer, the Patriot Guard's national spokesman, referring to the era when protests against the Vietnam war were common. "Whether we agree with why we're over there, these soldiers are dying to protect our freedoms."

Shirley Phelps-Roper, a daughter of Fred Phelps and an attorney for the Topeka, Kansas-based church, said neither state laws nor the Patriot Guard can silence their message that God killed the soldiers because they fought for a country that embraces homosexuals.

"The scriptures are crystal clear that when God sets out to punish a nation, it is with the sword. An IED is just a broken-up sword," Phelps-Roper said. "Since that is his weapon of choice, our forum of choice has got to be a dead soldier's funeral."

The church, which is not affiliated with a larger denomination, is made up mostly of Phelps' extended family. A small group of them appeared last month in West Virginia outside a memorial for the 12 men killed in the Sago Mine disaster. They held signs reading "Thank God for Dead Miners" and "Miners in Hell."

Kentucky, home to sprawling Fort Campbell, was among the first states to attempt to deal with Phelps legislatively. Its House and Senate have each passed bills that would limit people from protesting within 300 feet (90 meters) of a funeral or memorial service. The Senate version would also keep protesters from being within earshot of grieving friends and family members.

The Indiana Senate has passed a bill intended to prohibit protests within 500 feet (150 meters) of funerals. The House is considering the measure.

The bills were written to protect families of soldiers such as Pvt. Jonathan R. Pfender, 22, of Evansville, Indiana, a soldier from Fort Campbell's 101st Airborne Division who was killed in January by a roadside bomb in Beiji, Iraq.

Westboro church members protested at Pfender's funeral, screaming profanities at mourners as they passed. Family members were shielded from the insults by the rumble of Patriot Guard motorcycles.

"We were glad that the Patriot Guard Riders were there," said Jackie Pfender, the soldier's stepmother. "This group of protesters wanted to put something negative on Jonathan's funeral. In actuality, it became a positive thing because of the support we had."

Patriot Guard members only show up at funerals if invited by family. Richard Wilbur, a retired police detective, said his Indiana Patriot Guard group came to the Pfender funeral at the family's request after protesters announced they planned to attend.

"No one deserves this," Wilbur said. "If I were burying my loved one and they were out there yelling anything close to what they yell to the families of these soldiers, I know my temperament. I probably would not handle it very well."
 

Mrs.Greg

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Sad! A family should have peace at a funeral.Sooo wrong to protest at a funeral :mad:Good for the bikers taking a stand.
 

Liberty Belle

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This nutcase is the reason that South Dakota just passed SB 156 that I will post here. Just one more reason I'm proud of the legislators in my state. Why don't you send this to the legislators in your state?

AN ACT


ENTITLED, An Act to prohibit the picketing of funerals under certain circumstances, to provide penalties for the violation thereof, and to declare an emergency.

BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF SOUTH DAKOTA:
Section 1. No person may engage in any act of picketing at any funeral service during the period from one hour before the scheduled commencement of the funeral services until one hour after the actual completion of the funeral services.

Any violation of this section is a Class 2 misdemeanor. Each day on which a person violates this section constitutes a separate offense.

Section 2. Notwithstanding the criminal penalties provided in section 1 of this Act, the circuit court may enjoin conduct proscribed by section 1 of this Act and may in any such proceeding award damages, including attorney fees, or other appropriate relief against any person who is repeatedly found guilty under this Act.

Section 3. For the purpose of this Act, the term, picketing, means protest activities engaged in by any person stationed within one thousand feet of a funeral service within one hour prior to, during, and one hour following the commencement of any funeral service.

Section 4. For the purposes of this Act, funeral services are any ceremony, procession, or memorial held in connection with the burial or cremation of a deceased person.

Section 5. Whereas, this Act is necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, or safety, an emergency is hereby declared to exist, and this Act shall be in full force and effect from and after its passage and approval.
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An Act to prohibit the picketing of funerals under certain circumstances, to provide penalties for the violation thereof, and to declare an emergency.
 

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