North Carolina

NC approves tougher funeral protest rules in response to anti-gay church



RALEIGH, N.C. — The North Carolina General Assembly has given final approval to a measure that would impose stronger criminal penalties for people who disrupt funerals or memorial services.

The measure comes in response to the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church, known for protesting at soldiers’ funerals, claiming their deaths are God’s punishment for American immorality and tolerance of homosexuality and abortion.

The measure requires protesters to stay farther away from mourners and for a longer period of time before and after funeral events than current law. Violations would result in a higher grade misdemeanor and a felony on a second offense.

The Senate passed the bill unanimously, two weeks after the House did by a similar margin.

Based in Topeka, Kan., the Westboro church is not affiliated with the Baptist denomination or any other Baptist church. According to news reports, almost all of its members — fewer than 100 — are related to founder Fred Phelps either by blood or marriage.

The group first came into the national spotlight in 1998, when it picketed at the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old gay man who was brutally attacked on the night of October 6, 1998, then tied to a fence and left to die.

The bill now heads to Gov. Pat McCrory for his signature.

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