lufkin_funeral05.jpgBILL GAITHER/The Register-Mail

Shirley Phelps-Roper of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., speaks to reporters Friday afternoon as other members of the church continue their protest outside the funeral of Pfc. Caleb Lufkin at Bethel Baptist Church. The protesters remained in a roped-off section.

Funeral protest plays out in orderly fashion

Soldier's funeral draws large, varied audience

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Larry Shaw Real Estate

Saturday, June 3, 2006

GALESBURG - A dozen members of the Westboro Baptist Church, nearly 100 riders from the Patriot Guard Riders, more than 20 members of various media outlets and countless well-wishers descended on Friday's funeral service for Pfc. Caleb Lufkin at Bethel Baptist Church.

Chaos did not follow.

Galesburg implemented recent legislation passed at the state and national levels by keeping the Westboro group's protest 200 feet away from the service, on the north side of Fremont Street. The group, from Topeka, Kan., protests at the funerals of soldiers because of the military's tolerance of homosexuals.

Senate Bill 1144, the Let Them Rest in Peace Act, was signed into Illinois law by Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich on May 17. President George W. Bush signed similar legislation, the Respect for America's Fallen Heroes Act, on Memorial Day. The laws regulate the time and location of protests at funerals.

The 12 members of Westboro Baptist Church - including eight children - arrived at Fremont and Academy streets in two vans at 10:13 p.m.

The group was escorted by four Galesburg police officers to a roped-off area on Fremont between Academy and West streets.

The group shouted slogans, waved signs and sang songs until 11 a.m., at which time they were escorted back to their vans.

Galesburg Police Capt. Lindsey May and Sgt. Chris Howard coordinated media access to the protesters from Westboro Baptist. Five television stations, including a crew from CNN's Chicago bureau, covered the protest.

"We are here to deliver a warning to any soft heart or anyone who has the fear of God. We are here to fight against the fags," said Westboro Baptist member and protest organizer Shirley Phelps-Roper.

"Why would anyone of righteousness come here today and exalt a nation like ours," Phelps-Roper said. "We serve the Lord God with all our might. At least we might help someone save themselves from the untoward clutches of a country in the grip of homosexuals."

Phelps-Roper is the daughter of Fred Phelps, the pastor of Westboro Baptist Church. It is the second time the group has protested in Galesburg. On Nov. 15, 2005, the group protested at the funeral of Sgt. 1st Class Kyle Wehrly, which also was at Bethel Baptist Church.

On Friday the Galesburg Police Department closed access to the intersection at Academy and Fremont and closed down Fremont to Clark Street.

Members of the Patriot Guard Riders arrived on motorcycles at 10:18 p.m. and parked at Clark and Fremont streets. The group attends soldiers' funerals to honor the soldiers and shield the mourners from protesters.

They held close to 80 American flags on the sidewalk along Fremont in front of the church.

The west side of the intersection of Academy and Fremont streets was blocked by several ambulances and a large white Unified Command Post Homeland Security Region 9 vehicle, obscuring the protesters from Westboro Baptist from the view of the Patriot Guard Riders, who were lined up along the Fremont Street sidewalk. The vehicles also effectively shielded mourners from the protesters.

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