Arizona Passes Measure Against WBC Funeral Protests In Wake of Giffords Shooting

As we reported earlier this week, the Westboro Baptist Church had announced plans to protest the funerals of those people killed in the mass shooting in Tucson, for no apparent reason other than that they saw an opportunity to make a terrible thing even worse. Now the state of Arizona has passed an emergency measure instituting “funeral protection zones” that will keep all protestors at least 300 feet away from funeral services, beginning one hour before the services are scheduled to begin and ending an hour after the services do. Their reasoning is pretty unassailable.

“They want to protest at the grave site of a 9-year-old girl, and we want to stop him,” said state Sen. Paula Aboud (D-Tucson), referring to Phelps, who plans to picket outside Green’s funeral.

“I read Westboro’s press release and wanted to vomit I was so angry. It was sickening,” said state Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, a Phoenix Democrat and the bill’s primary sponsor. Sinema is a Tucson native and a friend of several of the shooting victims.

It has not escaped our notice that although the Westboro Baptist Church has picketed hundreds of funerals – for instance, Matthew Shepard’s after he was beaten and left tied to a fence to die alone because he was gay – they didn’t all merit the same kind of swift and decisive action to protect people from their hatred. Even if it should have come sooner, though, this decision seems entirely appropriate, and we can hope that it inspires other measures to protect grieving families.

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Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy." You can follow her on twitter and instagram.

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  1. Thank goodness the government is finally taking measures against those lunatics. Rest assured that they’ll have a field day yammering about how their rights are being violated or whatever because they can’t go to the funeral to spew hatred at people.

  2. Thank you for mentioning the reality. A huge segment of America had no problem when WBC picketed gay funerals. Didn’t even know about it.

    That being said, I don’t mind the rules. They have a right to protest, which I fully support. One football field isn’t going to make a huge difference in first amendment rights (or maybe that’s just me being optimistic).

    Of course, Arizona could just pull an Oklahoma and slash their tires and refuse to help them! Yay for country people!

  3. I just can’t even believe that something like this is necessary. It’s repulsive. But at least it’s been done.

  4. The WBC is actually trading radio air time here in Tucson for their presence at the funerals. I know that they have already agreed to not picket Christina Taylor Green’s funeral because a station has agreed to give them the airtime.

  5. It makes me sad and ashamed to see these WBC guys call themselves christians and use the name of God, and I’m saying this as a die hard atheist.

    This 300 feet measure is good and necessary and all, but how are these people even allowed to do that? Isn’t there any law against hate speech in the US? It just blows my mind.

  6. thank the jeebus these were put in place. see, legegislation can get introduced, passed and signed in one day here in AZ…

  7. Doing this is the next best thing to ignoring them.

    Ignoring them is the best thing. Just thought I’d say that again.

    • Ignoring them is the best thing, but I think this is necessary. If I was the mother of the 9-year-old who’d been killed and these assholes showed up at her funeral, I would lose my shit. Also, with the current climate in Tuscon, I would think more altercations between civilians and the WBC would be likely to occur. To me, they’d be the last straw. Though, I think under more normal circumstances (not that there’s anything normal about the WBC) ignoring their existence is definitely the best idea.

  8. I’d be interested to hear the legal justification the gov is giving. Not that WBC is one of my fav organizations or anything, but it just makes me a tad nervous about free speech rights and the can of worms that might be opened up later.
    But I very am glad that this family will have some peace.

    • I’m grossly generalizing, but it’s probably okay because it didn’t prohibit them from protesting, it just moved them 300 feet from the services.

    • You could read up on the Respect for America’s Fallen Heroes Act. Barney Frank’s not into it either. Unless he’s changed his mind since then, I think he(and the ACLU, etc.) would feel the same way about this.

      Also there are at least three or four other states with similar legislation.

  9. If I was “God” I’d be seriously annoyed at the protesters. So annoyed that when they all die, I’d reincarnate them to be gay alligators [tegan and sara are back in my head], and have them studied for gay statistics.

  10. I got my undergrad degree at the University of Wyoming, so I’ve been unlucky enough to see these assholes up close. It made my stomach hurt. Luckily, the anti-WBC counterprotest drew a FAR bigger crowd than those assholes did.

    I think my favorite response to the WBC, though, is the Phelps-a-thon, where people organize a pledge drive. You get people to pledge a certain amount of money for each minute the WBC protests, then all that money is donated to local gay charities! For added fun, you have someone with a megaphone and a big sign standing near the WBC and periodically announce the rising sums of money that is going to the gay charities.

    By the way, there’s a Phelps-a-thon for the Arizona protests:

  11. if god is as angry as the westboro baptist church says he is, he’s going to give himself an ulcer.

  12. WAIT.


    We’ve got legislators quickly making laws dictating what can and cannot be said on what likely is, in many cases, private property. And some of you are commenting on how great this is.

    Do you want to live in a free society, or do you want to live in a society where your sensibilities aren’t offended?

    Yes, what this guy says is horrific. However. If you agree to have a certain type of speech prohibited by law, you are inherently saying that you agree to have the decision of what is acceptable speech taken out of the hands on individuals who would deal with it on a case by case basis, and instead placed in the hands of a government agency of some kind.

    For me personally, that line delineating unacceptable speech is pretty freaking far back. The fact is that what they are saying does not physically harm anyone; it’s just disgusting. Freedom of speech is not freedom to say things that are a little offensive.

    I absolutely don’t think the WBC should be prohibited from saying what they are saying when they are on public property. If they are on private property, who ever owns the property should get to determine what goes on.

    There are other, and in my opinion, much better ways of dealing with people who use their freedom of speech to make life miserable for others. The Angels of Peace created by a friend of Matthew Shepard to deal with the WBC at his funeral is one. The Patriot Guard Riders are another. When you make this kinds of prohibitive laws, you seriously curtail the degree to which these other, more organic, custome-made, homebrew solutions can come about.

    I know, I know. It’s only a few hundred feet.

    If we just give up a little, tiny bit of our freedom . . . just a teeny bit . . . then things will be safer. Nicer. Less stressful.

    It goes up my ass sideways when LGBT people, of all people, do not understand that freedom (in this case, freedom of speech) is vitally important, and that no amount of convenience or sparing of feelings is worth giving up one single iota of it. Not one.

    Nobody says anything offensive in North Korea.

    • Actually, they’re not dictating what can and cannot be said. They’re saying you must be x distance from the funeral services. It’s called a time, place, manner restriction and they apply to public property and with some restrictions are perfectly valid under the Constitution. This isn’t some new novel thing, there’s a lot of jurisprudence on this issue.

  13. Also, I think if you are truly shaken by words coming from the mouth of someone as ridiculous as Fred Phelps, you need your head checked. I can see if you were, say, a thirteen-year-old living in a Christian cult family that sought to abuse or harm you, but beyond that . . . You’re a grownup. This is life. Live it.

    • Um, if I was at my 9-year-old daughter’s funeral, I would be very, very upset that some asshole decided to come interrupt the time I’m supposed to be laying her to rest especially considering that I would already be emotionally distraught. Logic kind of flies out the window at that point which is entirely normal. I could understand more so if they were picketing on a college campus or something. That’s a completely different situation.

      I see where you’re coming from in terms of the law being passed. I don’t really know where I stand on that, because I see both sides of it.

      • “Um, if I was at my 9-year-old daughter’s funeral, I would be very, very upset that some asshole decided to come interrupt the time I’m supposed to be laying her to rest especially considering that I would already be emotionally distraught..”

        Of course. I’m thinking of gay people who honestly take offense at this guy. They aren’t in the same shoes as, say, Judy Shepard, or the parents of this child, yet they are calling for speech-restricting laws to be made, and that is something that perplexes and enrages me. I’ve never heard Judy make any remarks saying that WBC’s speech should be restricted, though she’s made mention of appreciating the counter-protests. Correct me if I’m wrong. It’s a sensitive topic, but even if Judy began advocating for laws to restrict WBC’s free speech, I simply couldn’t support that.

        Even with respect to these parents, it would be difficult to argue that the WBC infringes upon their rights somehow. Fred is just an exceptionally shitty human being, that’s all. He’s an attention whore, and if his antics were ignored, he would stop. WBC is a freakshow of about 70 morons that go on a bus around the country, making a living off suing for freedom of speech. We hand them power by giving them attention.

        • Ok, that makes a lot more sense. I agree with you that people should just stop paying attention to them. The media coverage is the worst thing possible to give them. It’s one thing to react to these people if you come across them on the street and entirely another to make a big deal out of them after hearing about them on TV. They play on people’s emotions, because they know that the first reaction will be anger. Emotionally, I was happy that they were forced to protest a set distance away from these funerals. From a logical standpoint, this isn’t the greatest idea w/r/t civil rights. Kind of unfortunately, guaranteeing rights for all includes fuck-ups like these people.

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