Arizona lawmakers on Tuesday passed an emergency bill that would block members of a Kansas church from protesting at the funeral of the 9-year-old girl who was killed Saturday in a shooting rampage at a Tucson shopping center.
The bill went to the desk of Gov. Jan Brewer, who signed it into law Wednesday, making it effective immediately, the Tucson Citizen
and the Washington Post reported.
The proposed law would prohibit protests at or near funeral sites.
On Monday, members of the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church said they plan to protest outside the funeral of Christina Taylor Green, one of six people killed in the shootings that wounded another 14 people, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.).
Westboro Baptist, a small church in Topeka, pickets at funerals of military veterans and people who have died of AIDS because its members say their deaths are God's punishment for America's tolerance of homosexuality. Salon
reported that a flier posted by the church on its website regarding the Tucson protest declared "God hates Catholics" -- the little girl's family is Catholic -- and "God Hates Fags." The church website also features a video with founder/pastor Fred Phelps thanking God for the deadly shootings.
Numerous states have passed laws restricting protests at funerals after members of the Westboro church began demonstrating at the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Arizona legislation is modeled on an Ohio law that was upheld by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, said Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, a Phoenix Democrat.
"This is just horrific that ... people have to deal with this. We shouldn't have to do this in time of great pain for our state," Sinema told the Post.
Under the bill, picketing or protesting within 300 feet of a funeral service is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail.
Shirley Phelps-Roper of the Westboro church said church members will get around the ban by protesting at intersections that are farther than 300 feet from the services.
But some in area are planning a counter-action to protect the grieving family.
Christin Gilmer of Tucson told CNN
her hometown is a "loving, peaceful community" and the prospect of a protest by the small Kansas church was a "nightmare." In response, Gilmer said she is planning an "angel action" -- a group of volunteers wearing 8-by-10-foot angel wings to visually shield mourners from the demonstrators, who typically number no more than a dozen but hold aloft offensive signs.
"We want to surround them in a nonviolent way, to say that our community is united," she said. "We're a peaceful haven."
Forty-two people have signed up to volunteer, she said.