The notoriously antigay Westboro Baptist Church on Saturday picketed the funeral of a married lesbian soldier killed in action in Afghanistan earlier this month. Westboro announced its intent to picket the North Carolina funeral of army staff sergeant Donna R. Johnson, 26, who was killed in a suicide bomb attack in Khost, Afghanistan. Johnson is survived by her wife, Tracy Dice, who also serves in the military.
"Military funerals have become pagan orgies of idolatrous blasphemy," said WBC in a press release announcing the protest. "Where they pray to the dunghill gods of Sodom & play taps to a fallen fool."
A wall of counter-protestors separated WBC picketers from funeral attendees, but the confrontation turned violent when one counter-protestor tackled a WBC member, reports the blog Guardian of Valor.
"So at the funeral today for fallen soldier Sgt. Johnson a Westboro member decided it would be smart to stomp on the American flag," reported the blog, which also includes video of the confrontation. "A soldier did not take kindly to that and broke through the line, hitting one of the protestors that was disgracing Old Glory. As he was being arrested, two other soldiers rescued the flag… The soldier was not charged and later released."
Several Westboro members are trained lawyers, and the "church" is generally careful to abide by regional — and now federal — laws restricting protests outside military funerals to more than 300 feet from the service's entrance, and for an hour before or after the funeral. WBC members often verbally antagonize counter-protestors, which is constitutionally protected free speech, in an effort to get one of those counter-protestors to cross a line and physically assault a "church" member. The WBC then sues the counter-protestor for assault, providing a stream of funding for the "church," certified as a hate-group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Indeed, WBC is quite conscious of its intent to incite equality supporters to infringe upon the "church"'s First Amendment rights.
"Sgt. Johnson gave her life for the Constitutional right of WBC to warn America," the press release announced. "To deny us our First Amendment rights is to declare to the world that Sgt. Johnson died in vain, and that America is a nation of sodomite hypocrites."
The Topeka, Kansas-based "church" has made a name for itself by vocally protesting military and civilian funerals with inflammatory signs saying "Thank God for Dead Soldiers" and the infamous "God Hates Fags." The "church" was founded by the Rev. Fred Phelps, and today is comprised mainly of Phelps' immediate family members.