Anti-Gay Kansas Church Cancels Protests at Funerals for Slain Amish Girls

The controversial anti-homosexual Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., has canceled its plans to stage a protest at the funerals of the five Amish girls executed in their Pennsylvania school, a church official said Wednesday.

Shirley Phelps-Roper, the daughter of church's pastor, told the group canceled the protests in exchange for an hour of radio time Thursday on syndicated talk-show host Mike Gallagher's radio program.

"We're not going to any of the Amish funerals — that's the agreement we're making — that we won't go to any of them," Phelps-Roper told

On Tuesday, the church posted a flyer touting the demonstrations in response to the attendance of Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, who has spoken out against the church publicly. Both Amish and non-Amish residents of Lancaster County — where the shooting took place — have vowed to not allow any protesters anywhere near the funeral services; Rendell called the church members "insane."

Phelps-Roper, daughter of Rev. Fred Phelps, said the church had planned to cancel the protests if given media time on radio and television as a platform to espouse Westboro's beliefs.

Gallagher said that church officials would have to sign a document making them liable for the airtime if they broke their promise not to demonstrate.

"It's awful for me to give up an hour of my radio show ... but I think it’s worth the sacrifice to keep them away," Gallagher said.

But she defended the church's initial decision to protest at the Amish girls' funerals.

"Those Amish people, everyone is sitting around talking about those poor little girls — blah, blah, blah — they brought the wrath upon themselves," Phelps-Roper said, adding that the Amish "don't serve God, they serve themselves."

On Monday, Charles Carl Roberts IV killed five girls — Naomi Rose Ebersole, 7; Anna Mae Stoltzfus, 12; Marian Fisher, 13; Mary Liz Miller, 8; and her sister Lena Miller, 7 — in a rural Amish schoolhouse in Lancaster County, Pa.

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Donald Kraybill, a professor of sociology at Elizabethtown College in Lancaster County, Pa., calls the church's plans a publicity stunt.

"I don't think there's any connection between the Amish incident and their agenda. They just want to get in the spotlight," Kraybill said. "It's giving them national attention and it's a cheap and easy and really terrible way to gain some visibility."

The church's latest flyer, posted on its Web site notes these protests will be against Rendell for "slanderous" statements against the church.

Westboro's latest rhetoric is in line with the other beliefs of its 70 church members, who hold that the deaths of U.S. troops are God's punishment for America's tolerance of homosexuality.

The Westboro Baptist Church has made its name demonstrating at the funerals of soldiers killed in the Iraq war. Their controversial and colorful placards proclaim their anti-gay stance with slogans such as "Thank God for Dead Soldiers," "America Is Doomed" and "Soldier Fag in Hell."

Before it garnered national attention, the church made its name around Kansas, where 16 years ago, it started protested the funerals of AIDS victims. And while their demonstrations of late have focused on the funerals of U.S. soldiers, Westboro church members have taken their picket signs to the memorials for the 12 Sago miners who perished in January in West Virginia.

Earlier this year, prompted by the church protests, Congress passed a law that banned protesters from military funerals at federal cemeteries. More than a dozen states have passed similar legislation creating protest-free buffer zones around cemeteries during funerals.

Phelps-Roper told in February that the church has a right to protest.

"We are delivering a message," Phelps-Roper said. "God is punishing this nation and he is using the IED [improvised explosive device] as his weapon of choice."