Antigay church protesters no-show at funeral

Posted: March 14, 2011

Despite vows to "rejoice in the just punishment of an angry God," members of the controversial Westboro Baptist Church were a no-show this morning at funerals for an Upper Merion family killed earlier this month.

The Kansas-based church – which has made a name for itself surrounding military funerals with antigay placards and signs that say "God Hates America" – announced it would picket outside services for James, Susan and Joseph McAndrew Sr., who were found fatally stabbed in their home March 5. James McAndrew's twin brother Joseph Jr. has been charged with their murders.

"You taught him God's a liar and broke his moral compass," the church said of Joseph Jr. in a statement last week. "God has cursed you with murdering children."

But as mourners filed into Christ Lutheran Church in Kulpsville and a crowd of nearly 50 counter protesters gathered in wait, it became more and more apparent that Westboro's promises were a bluff.

"They won't show," said Tim McCann, an 18-year-old from Hatfield, who came out with a group of friends from his 252 Underground youth ministry group. "But we're here almost like an honor guard for the family." That sentiment was shared by many of the counter-protestors who milled about across a parking lot, bundled against the morning chill. None had any connection to the McAndrew family but many said they felt a duty to show up.

"I just wanted to come and be a protecting force for the family," said Catherine McCaleb, who quickly organized the counter protest group over the weekend via Facebook after reading about the planned Westboro demonstrations.

Standing apart from the group in a pink hat and scarf, Mary Jane Leterach Hershey, of Harleysville, noted the irony that hung in the air: She said that Westboro had only managed to draw more support for the McAndrews by announcing their hate-filled protest and then not showing up.

"It's just a terrible tragedy," she said. "I'm glad we're here as a peaceful presence."

On March 2, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision saying the church had a right to stage its controversial protests.

Albert Snyder, of York, sued the church after it protested at the 2006 funeral of his son, Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, who was killed in Iraq and buried in Maryland. But the high court said the First Amendment protects "even hurtful speech" such as Westboro's antigay protests.

The church issued a statement Friday announcing protests at the McAndrews funerals and those scheduled for later week for seven children killed in a Perry County farmhouse fire. The church cited Snyder's lawsuit as a factor in bringing Pennsylvania "into the crosshairs of an angry God."

Contact staff writer Jeremy Roebuck at (610) 313-8212 or at jroebuck@phillynews.com

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