Tuesday, February 5, 2008

If your "God hates Reno', Then we did something right.

Your HATE is not welcome in my city....I will stand in your way.

RENO (AP) — The Kansas-based church that protests at the funerals of U.S. soldiers, claiming the servicemen are dying because God hates gay people and America’s tolerance of them, has decided that God hates Reno too.

“Reno is a dangerous place to be, with the curse of God upon Reno,” the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., said in a news release this week. “God hates Reno, Nevada.”

Police Chief Michael Poehlman called the church’s statement “despicable,” especially because it begins with references to Brianna Denison, a 19-year college student who has been the target of a search since police believe she was abducted from a Reno home on Jan. 20.

“If Brianna Denison dies, blame the corrupt Reno Police,” the church’s statement said, adding that church members will “picket her funeral, in religious protest & warning.”

Shirley Phelps-Roper, an attorney and member of the church, said Wednesday they targeted Reno because local law enforcement officers failed to protect three church members who picketed a memorial service here Saturday for staff Sgt. Sean Gaul, who was killed in Iraq on Jan. 9.

The group says its protests are intended to highlight their belief that God is killing U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan to punish America for condoning homosexuality.

The Reno Gazette-Journal reported that the protesters — carrying signs that read “Don’t waste your tears on fallen soldiers” and “God Hates Fags” — were encircled by about 150 people, including members of the Patriot Guard Riders, a group of motorcycle enthusiasts who support fallen soldiers.

“They had a little bit of talking back and forth, nothing loud,” Washoe County sheriff’s Lt. Dean Spurr. “I thought it was very peaceful.”

But one of the protesters, Phelps-Roper’s 21-year-old nephew Joshua Phelps, said the group tried to push him and the other two protesters into a barbed wire fence. He said one man cut an American flag out of his hand with a knife and another man punched his cousin in the back several times.

“The police stood by and not only didn’t do anything to keep the peace and make them obey the law, but helped choreograph the mischief,” Phelps-Roper told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from Topeka on Wednesday. “They let those bitter bikers lay hands on our people.”

So is Reno the only city that God hates?

“Oh no, hon,” Phelps-Roper told a reporter. “God hates America, but you guys (in Reno) have got a special wrath upon you for what those men did.”

The group’s Web site notes that God also hates Sweden, Canada, Ireland and Mexico.

Phelps-Roper said Reno also is on God’s bad side because of the community’s “filthy manner of life” — including gambling and “policies of divorce and remarriage, which the lord Jesus Christ says is adultery.”

“Now, like you didn’t have enough trouble already, you raised your hands against the servants of God,” she said.

Jeff Lockhart, national communications officer for the Patriot Guard Riders, said his group works in cooperation with law enforcement agencies and has a strict policy against any interaction with the church’s protesters. He said the church routinely accuses his group of engaging in confrontations that never occurred.

“I will not officially respond to baseless accusations that are simply fabricated to gain an additional 15 minutes of press time,” Lockhart said in an e-mail to AP.

Washoe County Sheriff’s spokeswoman Brooke Keast said Thursday the protesters walked past two deputies after the incident and made no complaints about the way they were treated.

Poehlman said police made sure the church’s protesters were allowed to exercise their right to peaceably protest away from the actual memorial service.

“I think they just had sour grapes because they didn’t get what they wanted out of that event,” Poehlman said. “I know they were very upset that we would not allow them to be front and center at the funeral.”

Poehlman said violent crime has declined in Reno in each of the past two years. He condemned the group’s reference to Denison, adding that the “terrible situation” regarding her disappearance “doesn’t mean Reno is any less safe than any other community.”

“I think it is despicable for someone who says they are Christians, a church affiliated with Christian beliefs, to any way cause greater suffering to this family,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the Denison family said they had no comment.

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