You may or may not already know about the shooting in Arizona on Saturday that killed six people and injured 14 others, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who suffered a bullet wound to the head. The U.S. Representative is now in the intensive care unit in Tucson, and is showing signs of improvement. One of those killed was Judge John Roll, another 9-year-old Christina Green. The judge presiding over the shooting case ordered 22-year-old Jared Loughner to be held without bail. The next court hearing is set for Jan. 24.
For now, that is where the tragedy ends and the controversy begins. The Westboro Baptist Church, the same church responsible for protesting American soldiers’ funerals, posted a flier on their website that reads “THANK GOD FOR THE SHOOTER — 6 DEAD!” St. Odiilia Church in Tucson, Ariz., is holding a Mass for Christina Green and all the other victims, and the Westboro Baptist Church also planned to picket this service as well.
“When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government, the anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous. Unfortunately, Arizona, I think, has become sort of the capital,” explained Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik. “We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry.”
The people of Arizona didn’t take kindly to the idea of Westboro protesting a 9-year-old girl’s funeral. On Tuesday, Governor of Arizona Jan Brewer signed emergency legislation that was passed unanimously by the House and Senate. The bill bans protests within 300 feet of a funeral and within an hour from its beginning or end to protect grieving families.
“Such despicable acts of emotional terrorism will not be tolerated in the State of Arizona,” Brewer explained after announcing the bill. “This legislation will assure that the victims of Saturday’s tragic shooting in Tucson will be laid to rest in peace with the full dignity and respect that they deserve.”
This bill was specifically targeted at the Westboro Church, and makes it a misdemeanor in Arizona to protest near a funeral. The Westboro Baptist Church has made its mark on the nation by protesting at funerals of soldiers, funerals of those people who have died of AIDS, and funerals of gay people. The church itself was founded by 80-year-old Fred Phelps and consists mostly of members of his extended family.
In the event that the legislation had not passed, Chelsea Cohen, a 20-year-old University of Arizona senior planned something called “angel action.” Angel actions were created by Coloradan Romaine Patterson after the 1999 funeral of Matthew Shepard, a young gay man beaten and left on a fence to die in Laramie, Wyoming. Participants wear 8 ft. by 10 ft. “angel wings” to hide the picketers from the grieving families.
“Once I heard that the Westboro Baptist Church was coming, I felt like something should be done to show support for the families,” said Cohen. “I don’t have any experience in organizing these things. I thought I might get 50 to 100 people.”
“This isn’t a counter-protest,” continued Chelsea. “We wanted it to show support for the families and to show that Tucson is there with love and support.”
The only silver lining to the tragedy in Arizona and the acts of the Westboro Church is that both political parties can agree upon the bill that it resulted in.
“Today we have joined together to provide some small measure of comfort for families grieving over the lost of a loved one,” said Democratic state Sen. Kyrsten Sinema. “During times of grief, families should be free from harassment or intimidation. This law does the right thing by protecting those families.”
“Protesting or picketing outside the funeral of an innocent victim is despicable,” said Republican state House Speaker Kirk Adams. “It’s time to bring Arizona in line with the many other states that protect the sensitivities of victims against groups that use fear and hate to denigrate the lives of Americans.”
I’m glad the government took immediate action to fight the disrespect that the Westboro Church has for these families. To believe in something is perfectly acceptable, even if it may be considered a stretch of Christianity. However, shoving it down people’s throats while they are mourning a death is in a completely different spectrum. Maybe there should be laws against conspiracy to protest a funeral.