[Westboro Baptist Church] Soldier’s family counters church protest

London, Ky. — To the family and friends who knew him, Sgt. 1st Class Charles Jason Jones was born to be a soldier. But to dozens of picketers Saturday, he was at the center of a free speech demonstration.

More than 200 mourners, including Gov. Ernie Fletcher, filled the chapel at the London Funeral Home to pay tribute to Jones, a 29-year-old Kentucky National Guardsman who was found dead on Sept. 20 in his quarters in Iraq.

The military is still investigating the cause of his death, which has been classified as noncombat-related.

Jeff Jackson, a childhood friend of Jones, recalled his last conversation with the soldier, who had decided to leave his assignment as a recruiter to fight in the war.

“He was born to be an American soldier,” said Jackson, gazing over Jones’ flag-draped casket.

Jones was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 67th Armor Regiment, 4th Brigade, 4th Infantry Division at Fort Hood, Texas.

Just before the ceremony, several pro-military groups surrounded the funeral home — the first such demonstration since a judge struck down a state law that required a 300-foot buffer zone for protests at military funerals.

The funeral procession for Sgt. 1st Class Charles Jason Jones pulls into the Locust Grove Cemetery near Keavy, Ky., on Saturday. Jones died in Iraq on Sept. 20 from noncombat-related causes. Flag-bearers attended the funeral to counter protests from members of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka.

The family had invited the groups to wave American flags and express their support for U.S. soldiers after hearing about a planned protest by the Westboro Baptist Church. Members of the Topeka, Kan., church show up at military funerals claiming God is killing troops in Iraq to punish the nation for its tolerance of homosexuality.

Westboro Baptist Church
The Westboro Baptist Church is a hate group masquerading as a Christian church. Led by Fred Phelps, members of this church target homosexuals with messages of hate.

The group’s extremist views and despicable behavior mark it as a cult of Christianity

The family’s demonstrators waved American flags and exchanged shouts for more than an hour with church members.

The members of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka held signs across the street that read, “America is doomed,” “Thank God for 9/11” and “Thank God for dead soldiers.”

A row of fire trucks, city police and state troopers separated the flag-carrying demonstrators from the Westboro members, who were allowed to protest from the public sidewalk across the street.

Little was said of the demonstration during the funeral, though the Rev. Charles Taylor told mourners that the presence of the Westboro protesters was “a dishonor.”

“I feel sorry for them,” he said, adding “I appreciate the folks holding the flags.”

Fletcher said he respected the federal court’s decision to strike down the protest law.

“Our soldiers fight for our freedoms, and part of that is freedom of speech,” Fletcher said after the service. “But I’m down here for Sgt. 1st Class Charles Jason Jones today.”

Last week, U.S. District Judge Karen Caldwell wrote that the state law could restrict the free speech rights of people in nearby homes, sidewalks and streets, even if they cannot be seen or heard by funeral participants.

The law, passed earlier this year, was aimed at members of the Kansas church, which claims the soldiers’ deaths are a sign of God punishing America for tolerating homosexuality.

When asked if it was inappropriate to protest a military funeral, the grandson of the church founder, The Rev. Fred Phelps, said, “I feel terrible about the fact that this family sent their child in harm’s way and into God’s crosshairs.”

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Religion News Blog posted this on Monday October 2, 2006.
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