St. Peters Residents, Leaders Attend Westboro Baptist Church Counter Protest
Mayor Len Pagano and others attend protest in St. Charles.
The Westboro Baptist Church remains in the public eye in St. Charles County.
In 2010, the city of St. Peters caught the eye of the controversial church. The city tried to ban churchgoers from protesting at funerals. However, St. Peters aldermen repealed the city ordinance restricting funeral protests after the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri won a lawsuit against Missouri to overturn an identical state law.
Thursday afternoon, the Westboro Baptist Church was back on the radar of St. Peters residents and leaders. The church members made the trek from Topeka, KS, to St. Charles. A crowd of hundreds wielding flags and signs crowded around Westboro Baptist Church members as a chorus of “God Bless America” gave way to chanting, “USA! USA! USA!”
They were Vietnam and World War II veterans, mothers pushing strollers, and downtown workers who finagled some time off and retirees.
Some shouted angrily; but most just shouted loudly as they encircled the protesters from the Topeka, KS-based church during a tense few minutes. The Westboro members stopped briefly to protest outside the St. Charles County administrative building and St. Charles City Hall on North Second Street.
About four Westboro Baptist Church members held signs reading, “Thank God for crippled soldiers,” and “You Will Eat Your Babies (Lev. 26:29).”
Despite the counter protest, Westboro member Margie Phelps continued with her message that God is judging America for its sins by killing soldiers and citizens alike. She said tolerance of homosexuality, divorce, cohabitation and “bowing down in idolatry” to the American flag turned God’s wrath on America.
“The flag has become the international symbol of hypocrisy and idolatry,” she said.
Phelps and her sister brought a lawsuit against St. Charles County, claiming a new law restricting protests at funerals violate First Amendment guarantees. The city of St. Charles is considering a similar law.
The Westboro Church web site, www.godhatesfags.com, also blamed last week's tornados on the laws passed by local governments attempting to regulate protests at funerals.
The site reads, "The Lord sent the whirlwind to Missouri on Dec. 31 and killed 4 people. The last woman to die from that act of God was from Phelps county. That was not a coincidence! Take note! Heed the word you Missouri rebels. Continuing to stop the preachments of WBC will not go well for you."
Kristie Weber, of St. Peters, said word about Thursday's counter protest in St.Charles spread via word of mouth and computer.
“I’ve been blasting it on Facebook and now I’ll blast it more on podcasts,” she said, as she took video of the event.
“This is our town,” she said. “You have the right to freedom of speech, but there’s a time and place for everything, and a hero’s funeral is not the place for (protesting).”
St. Charles police officers worked to keep the two groups separated, but patriotic shouts and angry shouts effectively shouted down a handful of Westboro Baptist Church members.
The Westboro protesters claim that God is punishing America for sins such as supporting homosexual marriage by killing its soldiers. They have protested at more than 500 funerals than 500 for soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“What they’re doing is despicable,” said Dee Wetzel, of St. Charles, a counter protester. “I think it’s disrespectful that anybody would do this to somebody who gave their lives for our country.”
Not everyone was there to oppose the Westboro protest. Ray Vance, of O’Fallon, passed out copies of a printed statement.
“I’m here in the hopes of opening up some minds,” Vance said. “Our Constitution asks us to be an open-minded, common sense society of good Samaritans.”
He pointed out that the church-based group has a right to protest and freedom of speech. Vance stressed his opposition to the Westboro message, but he said they were to be pitied and perhaps ignored, not attacked.
Lloyd Jordan, of St. Peters, held an American flag aloft, and chanted with the crowd.
“We earned them their right to speak,” Jordan said. “We don’t have to agree with them, but if they can’t stand for our troops, they can stand in front of them.”
Phelps disagreed with the veterans.
“God almighty gives me the freedom to speak,” she said.
Phelps criticized the government’s attempt to regulate protests.
“All they do is put a megaphone in front of me,” Phelps said. “It’s a fool’s errand. If they didn’t pass these laws, we wouldn’t be here.”
However, County Councilman Joe Brazil, R-District 2, of Defiance, praised the St. Charles County and St . Louis area residents who show
“Our side was great,” Brazil said. “They had maybe four people show up? We had a lot of patriots out here doing the right thing.”
Brazil proposed the St. Charles County law banning protests within 300 feet of funeral services, which is based on a Nebraska law.
St. Peters Mayor Len Pagano added, “This spoke loud and clear that our freedom of speech is alive and well.”