Anti-gay group plans to protest funeral

CASPER. Wyo. (AP) - A Topeka, Kan., church whose members regularly engage in anti-homosexual picketing plans to demonstrate at the funeral of a 21-year-old University of Wyoming student who officials say was tortured because he was gay.

Since 1991, Westboro Baptist's the Rev. Fred Phelps and his followers began what he calls a ministry of public religious pickets with a central message of "God Hates Fags."

On Monday, Phelps issued faxes condemning the victim, Matt Shepard, for being gay.

In a telephone interview, Phelps said he was not concerned about upsetting family and friends at the funeral, which is scheduled Friday at 1:30 p.m. at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Casper.

"What ought to make that family sad is the fact that they frittered away the opportunity to raise up a child in the nurturing admonition of the Lord," the 67-year-old minister said.

Phelps and the church's members regularly picket in public places. They on occasion have been accused of using vulgar language and of being abusive but they deny doing so.

Phelps' fax displayed examples of signs the church planned to show at the demonstration, some of which read "God hates fags," "No tears for queers" and "Fag Matt in hell."

Gov. Jim Geringer said officials cannot stop the group from coming to Casper, but he wants them to know their presence is not wanted.

"They're just flat not welcome," Geringer said. "What we don't need is a bunch of wingnuts coming in."

Public Safety Director Art de Werk said precautions are being taken in case Phelps and his 15 or so associates show up.

"We won't allow any kind of disruption of the services, period," de Werk said. "I'm sure this will raise some freedom of speech issues and so on, but we have to do what's right, and essentially my first concern in this case is that the family ... and the mourning process that they're in is not interfered with."

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"The opportunity to be threatened, humiliated and to live in fear of being beaten to death is the only 'special right' our culture bestows on homosexuals." - Diane Carman, Denver Post, October 10, 1998

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