GREENEVILLE, Tenn. – Greene County is the latest target of a Kansas church that wants to establish monuments condemning a gay man who was murdered in Wyoming in 1998.
County officials vow to fight the attempt by Fred Phelps, pastor of the Topeka, Kan., church, to put a 6-foot granite monument in the Greeneville courthouse. Phelps said if officials do not comply, his group will picket the county.
“If they want to come down here and picket, come on,” Greene County Mayor Roger Jones said.
The pastor wants the monuments displayed by local governments across the country, said the church’s attorney, Shirley Phelps-Roper. She claims a 2002 court ruling requires any government entity that displays the Ten Commandments on public property to also display monuments of other religious groups.
In addition to displaying the Ten Commandments, Greene County government leaders voted recently to recognize a resolution recognizing “God as the foundation of our national heritage.” Jones sent copies of the legislation to Tennessee’s other 94 county leaders for consideration.
Several county commissions are considering it, and some, such as Monroe and Anderson counties, have already adopted it. Phelps-Roper said her group learned of Greene County when it heard about the resolution.
Jones said hundreds of people across the country have contacted him and praised the move.
“I don’t regret it by any means,” he said.
Phelps was unsuccessful in October in trying to establish the monument condemning murdered college student Matthew Shepard in the victim’s hometown of Casper, Wyo. The church group also has sent letters to two city governments in Idaho and one in Wyoming requesting the establishment of the monuments. None has accepted, Phelps-Roper said.
“Every human being needs to see this monument more than they need oxygen to breathe,” she said. “Their callous disregard for the commandments of the Lord has allowed sodomites to take over the land. The monument is the mechanism that will cause them to see their abomination.”
The Kansas church’s request will be presented to Greene County commissioners on Thursday by county attorney Roger Woolsey, who doubts it will be considered.
“They will think it’s a terrible idea to put up something that celebrates the death of an individual,” he said.
Calling the monument’s message “reprehensible,” Lara Schwartz, senior counsel for the gay-rights advocacy group the Human Rights Campaign, said the church nonetheless has a “very good legal argument.”
The Casper City Council avoided accepting the monument by removing a Ten Commandments memorial from city land, she said.