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January 11th, 2011
07:08 PM ET

Arizona lawmakers take up funeral protest legislation

CNN Wire Staff

Tucson, Arizona (CNN) - The Arizona legislature is expected to pass legislation Tuesday targeting a Kansas church whose members have announced they plan to picket the funerals of the victims of Saturday's shootings in Tucson.

The proposed legislation would make it a misdemeanor to protest within 300 feet of a funeral from one hour before until one hour after a funeral, a spokesman for the state House said.

The action, according to House spokesman Daniel Scarpinato, is in direct response to the Westboro Baptist Church's announcement that it will picket the funeral of Christina Green, the 9-year-old who was among six people killed during Saturday's attempted assassination of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Arizona.

The controversial church, based in Topeka, has made its name by staging protests at funerals of people who died of AIDS, gay people, soldiers and even Coretta Scott King.

Within hours of the church's announcements, Facebook groups sprang up to plan actions surrounding the funerals that would keep the church members - most members of the extended family of church founder Fred Phelps - separate from the mourners.

Tucson just isn't that kind of town, says Christin Gilmer, 26, referring to the actions of the church.

"For something like this to happen in Tucson was a really big shock to us all," she said. "Our nightmare happened when we saw Westboro Baptist Church was going to picket the funerals."

Gilmer and others are planning an "angel action" - with 8- by 10-foot "angel wings" worn by participants to shield mourners from picketers. Angel actions were created by Coloradan Romaine Patterson, who was shocked to find the Topeka church and its neon signs outside the 1999 funeral of Matthew Shepard, a young gay man beaten and left on a fence to die in Laramie, Wyoming.

The angel action is part of a larger group, organized by Chelsea Cohen, a 20-year-old University of Arizona senior, aimed at showing Tucson's true colors.

"Once I heard that the Westboro Baptist Church was coming, I felt like something should be done to show support for the families," she said. "I don't have any experience in organizing these things. I thought I might get 50 to 100 people."

Full story

Updated: 7:07 pm


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soundoff (18 Responses)
  1. Shannon

    I know that the tragedy of the shooting on Saturday in Tucson has affected everyone nationwide, especially those family members directly. And my heart and prayers go out to them and wish them my most heartfelt condolences through this time.

    However, I still have to wonder why it is, that through all of it, all I hear about is Rep. Giffords and the 9 yr old, Christina Green who was born on 9/11/01, but yet not one mention of the other victims and their famlies, other than as a mass mention throughout the following of this tragic event that has effected an entire nation. Do those families and victims not matter as much because they are just Tucson residents and have no major media appeal because they are not representative of our country or a major date in our history?

    January 12, 2011 at 2:06 am |
  2. April

    I hope these sick people don't protest the little girl's funeral. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all the family's affected by this horrible time. Some one needs to get there facebook page removed they have ramdon acts of hate to such young people on there page.

    January 12, 2011 at 1:22 am |
  3. J.V.Hodgson

    This legislation is a waste of time.
    The media at least certain elements thereof will search them out and broadcast what they are doing saying, and will be payed in an around the sametime as coverage of the Funerals.
    Then It all loses context in the viewers mind
    about 1 hour before and after.
    It is hurried and wrong even though well intentioned legisaltion it has to be much
    smarter, Like no demonstrations in the whole
    part of the day before the funeral within 10
    miles and after within 1 mile.
    Regards,
    Hodgson.

    January 12, 2011 at 12:31 am |
  4. Thomas

    I want to start off by saying that what the Westboro Church is protesting is not morally or ethical appropriate in any form. But for Arizona's state government to restrict the American peoples first amendment rights is, in my opinion, unconstitutional. Once again for these people to protest at a 9 year-olds funeral is terrible. Her death shouldn't be used for this church's agenda to protest. But still that put aside they already have some limitations of freedom of assembly and if this is done in a peaceful manner then technically speaking this shouldn't be against the law Maybe if CNN and other news broadcasting stations didn't cover this story so extensively maybe they wouldn't want to evoke any emotions, plus one agenda of theirs is anti-gay I would think that the government would appreciate the support in deeming gay marriage unethical.

    January 12, 2011 at 12:03 am |
  5. Professor Linelle La Bonte

    Dear Anderson,
    PLEASE, PLEASE lay back on that HUGE dreadful visual – the photograph of Arizona's killer. It is extremely traumatic to be trying to keep up with your fine and accurate news with that thing showing up SO OFTEN, alone, or next to, or between other contributors to the story. Mr. Loughner has indubitably a satanic look and I am a retired professor emeritae who can hardly tolerate viewing it so often. Can you imagine what it does to CHILDREN? – or, on the other side of the coin – to others with mental illness or like tendencies to Loughner's? They probably love seeing it! PLEASE Go easy with these harsh visuals. Also try to wait until your interviewees can speak the totality of what they want to say. LATELY YOU TEND MORE AND MORE TO CUT IN ON THEIR THOUGHTS. I am a daily watcher of your show and have the greatest respect for you. Lately, though you seem to let the emotion of the moment's heavy news get to you (OR YOUR NERVOUS SYSTEM) and you lose the precious demeanor and control for which you are accustomed to projecting in almost all normal circumstances. Get a hold of your news and stay as great as you really are. Best. I AM an avid fan and follower of AC360. Thank you for the courtesy of considering this request.
    Keep up your best work and reporting.
    Professor Linelle La Bonte

    January 11, 2011 at 11:18 pm |
  6. Greg

    Im no fan of the church of their message but to bar someone from protesting against anything is unconstitutional. Its not a matter of morals its a matter of principal.

    January 11, 2011 at 10:03 pm |
  7. Sue

    This is a tip

    [Anderson, Could you look at the other video that Jared Loughner has favorited? It is a channel that has a weird name (starhit..) - looks like that may have been made by Loughner also, and made before he started his classit10 channel in which he was more willing to identify himself.

    It seems to me that whoever did that starhitsh.. video knew exactly what that person was doing. The music behind, the messaging and covering their own face, and star-hit-shnaz -- that ought to say something to us. (shnaz -- look it up in wiki - that was the name of a deceased young terrorist!) The maker of that clip seems to have wanted to do soemthing bad! ]

    January 11, 2011 at 9:30 pm |
  8. Christina

    This 9 year old child has suffered two tremendous things. Her birthday on the day of the towers falling, and now being shot as an innocent bystander. How disgusting that a church would protest at an innocent child's funeral. Does this group not understand churches are meant to build love not hate. Their actions don't do any justification for their cause. They still are seen as obnoxious for protesting someones funeral that has nothing to do with their problem.

    To the family, I am so sorry for the loss of your child. That is a completely sad.

    To the church, grow up, take your stupid, ridiculous protest else where and quit trying to make a scene for media attention. Let that little girl be buried in peace!

    January 11, 2011 at 9:02 pm |
  9. Cindi

    Westboro Baptist What? My mind refuses to take in protesting at anyone's funeral for any reason. It is not civilized.

    January 11, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
  10. Annie Kate

    This would be a good law for most communities to adopt. I cannot fathom the unkindness that characterizes the protest at a funeral – the attention is not suppose to be on anyone but the deceased and their family and loved ones. To horn in with a protest is in extreme poor taste and should not be allowed – even if they wish to characterize it as free speech – they can have their free speech – just somewhere else.

    January 11, 2011 at 8:25 pm |
  11. Bonnie

    Wish we could make these nuts cases go away. How can anyone support such hate. Freedom of speech does not include attending a celebration of life for those they do not know personally. All the nut cases make the United States look like we are crazy.

    By the way I believe Jesus would look at the behavior of this group with distaste.

    January 11, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
  12. Tim Gibson

    WBC is nothing but a hate group of misfits who vent the loathing they hold for themselves onto others and have sealed their own fate in hell with their anger and hate for anyone who is not a part of their family or gene pool of evil.

    January 11, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
  13. Don Polkinghorn

    Needless to say, I am confident that nearly 99.9% of America is disgusted by this type of behavior from a God fearing church. It's socially irresponsible. Nobody wins the "my God is better than your God" battle......Nobody!

    Motives?.....who cares, it must be increased donations to the church, 10 minutes of fame or a chance to get the attention these people feel they need.

    What if.....all media outlets would ban coverage of the Westboro Baptist Church demonstrations and direct their resources to the real story, the lives destroyed by this atrosity. What if.....they (media outlets) turned their cameras another direction....what if they (media outlets) decided to accept some social responsibility. If the media would demonstrate this type of responsibility, maybe they would have disappeared into the night.

    Sporting events already utilize this responsibility by not glamorizing the streaker that runs accross the field or the college kids doing silly stuff to get on the camera.

    It's your choice to not publish or glamorize this group as it is my choice not to watch....but people will watch and it's that revenue generator that keeps these idiots on the headlines!

    January 11, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
  14. stella

    Please don't give the people from the Westboro so called baptist church the time of day. I don't want to see those idiots getting the attention they so desperately want on the news tonight.

    January 11, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
  15. Lori - PA

    Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas needs to let people grieve in peace.

    January 11, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
  16. JD

    Westboro "Baptist Church" is beyond ridiculous and just seeking publicity ... and showing how low they will go to get it ... I suggest all media to make every effort to not film them or mention them ... they are overlooking their own rudeness and beyond to seek publicity for themselves at this child's funeral

    January 11, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
  17. BD

    Seen from the outside, American political rhetoric has indeed degraded. So much political comment has been aimed at getting headlines in a media that addresses an increasingly de-sensitized audience, calloused by widespread sensationalism over time.

    It might be good if US editors and producers demonstrated better taste in choice and presentation of stories, rather than rushing to get a rating spike, to beat the competiton to publication with minimal regard to fact and accuracy, to make the loudest noise, or sell a few more page views with an approach that panders to those who live large in headlines with little regard to the impact on the collective mentality of their audience over time.

    The same might hold true for public figures that exploit media's tendency to bite on sensationalism.

    January 11, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
  18. Francois Gagne

    As a Global Citizen, I cannot do anything else but be sadden by this type of event. This is a human tragedy. It is happening every day in the USA but only noticed when the victim has a public stature. Too many of your citizens are gunned-down every day. As a nation and a concerned society, the USA should take a breather and rethink their values. There is more gun victims per capita in your country than anywhere else in the world. Your right to bear arms had its purpose at the birth of your nation, but after 200 years of evolution of your society, this right doesn't need to exist anymore as you have law and order officials that are there to do this job. Remove all weapons that are not necessary in your society and I assure you that you will improve the safety of your life. I hope that the US citizens of this Global World have the maturity to come to terms with this abnormality of this beautiful country of yours.

    January 11, 2011 at 12:19 pm |