Archive for Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Tonganoxie woman testifies against pickets

March 15, 2006

Last October, war widow Kelly Frantz, of Tonganoxie, buried her high school sweetheart, Lucas Frantz, an Army soldier who was killed on his 22nd birthday by a sniper in Iraq.

On Monday, Kelly Frantz stood before a House committee asking lawmakers to approve legislation that would keep 300 feet of distance between mourners and the Rev. Fred Phelps and his followers with their pickets that say "Thank God for Dead Soldiers" and "Thank God for IEDs."

"He gave his life for us, and how did a few Americans choose to thank him?" Frantz said of her husband. "What was supposed to be a day of sorrow and remembrance turned into a day of hatred."

But Shirley Phelps-Roper, an attorney representing Phelps' Westboro Baptist Church, said the protesters had a constitutional right of free speech under the First Amendment, and any attempt to stifle that right would be thwarted in court.

"The curse of God is pouring out on this nation. You are prepared to dismantle the First Amendment for a few words on placards," she said.

Rebekah Phelps-Roper told the House Federal and State Affairs Committee, "God is punishing America by blowing up the fruit of America to pieces."

Fred Phelps has blamed the United States' problems on tolerance of homosexuality.

The committee took no action.

Chairman John Edmonds, R-Great Bend, said, "I want to pass something that is effective and constitutional."

The Phelpses have gained national notoriety for picketing at the funerals of soldiers and AIDS victims.

A number of states have approved legislation that would keep them farther away from funerals, and groups of military veterans riding motorcycles, called the Patriot Guard, have formed to attend funerals where they hold large U.S. flags that block the Phelpses' signs.

The bill in Kansas would make it illegal to picket or protest within 300 feet of a funeral service from one hour before the service to two hours after the service. Protesters could be closer than 300 feet if they were on a public street or sidewalk, as long as they didn't obstruct the street.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius said she hoped the Legislature would approve a bill so she could sign it into law.

"I think it is a disgrace that we have picketers now who have decided to visit military funerals. I'm pleased that we have the Patriot Guard that has stepped up.

"Anything that we can do legally to move the pickets away from family members, I think, is a major step forward," she said.

Legislators including Rep. Lee Tafanelli, R-Ozawkie -- a National Guard commander who recently returned from Iraq, ministers, veterans and Patriot Guard members spoke in favor of protest restrictions.

"We should be able to bury our dead in peace," said Pastor J "Beaux" Bryant, of Christian Calvary Ministries International in Grantville. "Especially those who have served or died in the line of duty."

Several wanted to remove the distance exemption if the protesters were on the sidewalk, saying that was a loophole for protesters to get closer.

But Shirley Phelps-Roper said sidewalks couldn't be off-limits to protesters.

"Those sidewalks are held in trust for robust, public debate," she said.

Frantz said her husband was an "All-American boy," and she was pushing for the protest restrictions to save other families from the grief caused by the Phelps' demonstrations.

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