Westboro funeral protests trigger new penalties backed by N.C. House

Westboro funeral protests trigger new penalties backed by N.C. House

RALEIGH, N.C. — The North Carolina state House is unanimously backing efforts to increase criminal penalties for people who disrupt a funeral or memorial service in response to an anti-gay Kansas church picketing military funerals nationwide.

The House voted 118-0 on Tuesday in favor of a bill that would require protesters to stay farther away from mourners and funeral services. The measure now goes to the Senate.

Violating the proposed law would result in a higher grade misdemeanor and a felony on a second offense.

The law is in response to antics by the Westboro Baptist, home of anti-gay extremists and the “Gods Hate Fags” fundamentalist movement, whose members often hold protests at soldiers’ funerals, claiming the deaths are God’s punishment for American immorality and tolerance of homosexuality and abortion.

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 hate group is best known for its protest of the funerals of U.S. service members, and 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.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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