Published January 13, 2015
As hundreds of people filled a high school gym Tuesday to say goodbye to an Iowa Army National Guardsman killed in Iraq, a small group of placard waving protesters kept their distance.
Sgt. Daniel Sesker, 22, of Ogden, was killed April 6 when a bomb exploded near his Humvee outside Tikrit.
While friends and family remembered Sesker inside the Ogden High School gym, nine members of the Westboro Baptist Church, of Topeka, Kan., protested outside.
The church group has traveled to military funerals over the past year, waving signs and chanting offensive slogans. The church frequently claims that God is killing U.S. soldiers who fight for a country that tolerates homosexuality.
The church group was kept far away from the school after police marked off a line 530 feet away.
The protest came less than a day after Gov. Tom Vilsack signed a bill that requires protesters to stay at least 500 feet away from funerals. The new law went into effect immediately and carries escalating punishments for violations.
Members of a motorcycle group, the Patriot Guard Riders, were outside the school to pay tribute to Sesker. They have attended several military funerals to honor fallen soldiers.
Phil Cordes, of Scribner, Neb., a member of the motorcycle group, stood outside the school and denounced the church group's presence.
"What they are doing is very despicable," Cordes said.
He said soldiers who are killed overseas and their families deserve better.
"These people deserve respect and the family deserves respect," he said.
The same church group picketed near the state Capitol in Des Moines later in the morning. They remained silent and waved signs as they stood nearly a block from the Statehouse.
Police watched from nearby but did not interfere with the protest.