Anti-gay church group plans picketing at Alabama churches

Associated Press/September 24, 2004
By Phillip Rawls

A Kansas church group that proclaims "God hates fags" plans to picket next month in Alabama over two killings that police said may be due to the victims' sexual orientation.

The Rev. Fred Phelps, pastor of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., said Friday about 18 members of his congregation will be in Alabama to picket at the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, a gay community center in Mobile, and five mainline churches in Bay Minette.

Phelps' group announced it is visiting Alabama in response to the slayings of Scotty Joe Weaver on July 18 in Bay Minette and Roderick George on July 28 in Montgomery.

Weaver, a gay 18-year-old, was beaten, stabbed and his body burned in the woods near his mobile home. Three friends of his have been charged with capital murder in his slaying.

George, 40, was shot in the head. A man charged with capital murder in the case told police that George made sexual advances and then lunged at him, said Lt. Huey Thornton, spokesman for the Montgomery Police Department.

The Southern Poverty Law Center operates training programs on tolerance and has classified Phelps' origination as a "hate group."

"It's a badge of honor when a pervert does that," Phelps said in an interview Friday.

Mark Potok, center spokesman, said Phelps' congregation is essentially his extended family and one other family.

The congregation, which maintains that homosexuals go straight to hell, regularly pickets at funerals for gays and picketed the Rev. Jerry Falwell on Thursday night in Wichita, Kan., for being too soft on homosexuality.

"For people who portend to be religious, they don't come any more hateful and vile than these people," Potok said.

Thornton said Phelps' group picketed at the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2002 and attracted little public attention. He said he expects the same response this time.

In Bay Minette, the Rev. Bruce Fitzgerald of the First United Methodist Church said he is disturbed that any group would use a family tragedy to gain publicity. His church will go ahead with its normal Sunday services on Oct. 17 despite the presence of Phelps' group.

"He goes around spreading hate. We are going to try to spread love, mercy and grace," Fitzgerald said.

Phelps argues that many mainline churches are distorting the Bible's message about homosexuality.

"The notion that God loves everybody is a new notion. He doesn't," Phelps said. "The notion that God only hates the sin, not the sinner, is heresy."

Phelps is also planning to picket at four other mainline churches in Bay Minette: First Baptist Church, Cross Roads Church of God, First Presbyterian Church, and Immanuel Episcopal Church.

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