Protesters appear at service for Marine

KARE TV, Minneapolis/August 4, 2005

Memorial services for a Marine who died in Iraq were marred Thursday when members of a Kansas church protested outside the church where the service was held.

Members of the Topeka, Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) had said they were going to attend Tuesday's funeral for Marine Corps Sergeant Bryan Opskar in Moorhead, Minnesota — the town where he and his wife lived. Protesters appeared instead at the services held in Princeton, Minnesota where the Opskar grew up.

A group of about ten protesters, including children, gathered across the street from the church silently holding signs. The signs included the messages "God blew up the troops," "Thank God for IEDs," "America is doomed" and "God hates America."

This is the second time in the last three weeks that the church has sent protesters to a dead-serviceman's funeral with a message that their deaths are a punishment from God. The church, famous for its anti-gay message, says that American troops are dying in Iraq because God is punishing the United States for an unsolved bombing of the church in 1995 that left a child seriously injured.

In a press release, the church said Opskar was killed by "by an IED (improvised explosive device), like the IED America used to bomb our church, in a terroristic attempt to stop WBC's anti-gay preaching."

"We may be pardoned for seeing a direct correlation between the improvised explosive devices killing American kids in Iraq and the IED that nearly killed a sleeping Westboro baby August 20th 1995," the Web site reads, continuing to cite biblical verses that it claims support its position.

The church is famous for its site and protests at the 1998 funeral of murdered homosexual Matthew Sheppard. The church continues to earn national attention staging protests — and threatening to stage protests — at funerals and other public events. He has appeared in Minnesota before. It was not clear if the church's leader, the Reverend Fred Phelps, traveled to Minnesota for Thursday's protest.

While some people attending Thursday's service were clearly upset by the protests, there were no altercations and the protest ended peacefully.

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