Casper Town Officials, Governor Geringer Combat Fred Phelps at Matthew Shepard's Funeral
We have been working with the town government of Casper, Wyoming this week to prepare for the anticipated anti-gay protest of Rev. Fred Phelps of the Westboro (Kansas) Baptist Church and Library at the funeral of Matthew Shepard today. Phelps has picketed the funerals of gay men for years across the country, holding "God Hates Fags" signs and harrassing family members.
Governor Jim Geringer (R), who is attending the funeral today, said publicly earlier this week that Phelps was not welcome in Wyoming, and we have worked with his office and local officials to find a way to restrict Phelps' activities in the best way possible under the law and in the short time we had. With the help of a dedicated activist in Kansas City – a town which passed a similar ordinance in 1993 to deal with Phelps – we were able to craft a measure which will keep Phelps at least 50 feet away from church property for one hour before, all during, and two hours after the Shepard funeral. The ink is drying on the ordinance as I write this, and is heading for signature by the City Manager at this hour. It was crafted to cover all those seeking to picket a funeral in the town's jurisdiction, and was the best we could accomplish without risking an immediate court injunction for violating constitutional free speech rights. Such an injunction might have allowed Phelps to walk right up to the church property line.
Hopefully, we have been able to help the family and friends of Matthew Shepard today. I want to thank those of you across the country who jumped into action and helped make this effort possible. Unfortunately, the viciousness of this murder and of Fred Phelps' message remind us of the hard work ahead for us all. Let's draw continued inspiration from the courage of Matthew Shepard and his family as we move ahead with our mission.