Protestors square off at Edwards' funeral

Members of the Line of Love in Raleigh (Tamara Gibbs)
December 11, 2010 10:22:17 AM PST
A counter protest aimed at members of the Kansas based Westboro Baptist Church drew hundreds to downtown Raleigh Saturday.

Organizers said they sought to drown out the anti-gay group which sent members to Raleigh to protest at the Elizabeth Edwards funeral - saying she advocated for homosexual rights during her life.

Edwards - wife of former presidential candidate John Edwards - died this week after a six-year battle with breast cancer. She was 61.

By 11:30 Saturday morning, Westboro members were yelling at the counter protest group calling itself the Line of Love, but it was hard to tell what they were saying. The Edwards supporters responded with cheers and applause.

The handful of Westboro protestors held signs reading "God Hates Fags, "Elizabeth in Hell," and "Thank God for Dead Soldiers."

Pastor Fred Phelps and his family lead Westboro. They've made headlines for years by showing up at soldier's funerals asserting that American casualties are God's punishment for America's "sin of homosexuality."

Organizations like the Anti-Defamation league and the Southern Poverty Law Center have labeled Westboro as a hate group.

In an interview Thursday morning with NewsRadio 680 WPTF, Westboro Baptist Church member Shirley Phelps Roper said the protest was justified and that Edwards taught against the commandments of God.

"She used her money and her standing in this country to defy her creator," said Roper.

News of Westboro's decision to picket the Edwards' funeral drew an angry reaction from many around the Triangle.

The N.C. Council of Churches issued a statement:

The protesters from Kansas have come many miles to spread their hatred at Elizabeth Edwards’ memorial service. Let us be clear: the Bible calls us to kindness and respect for one another, and Jesus Christ preached throughout his life that we should love one another. The protesters' appalling and repeated violation of the sacred services by which we honor our dead, along with their representation of themselves as messengers of Christ, are offensive and misrepresent Christian faith.

Other groups called on supporters to wear Tar Heel blue in support of Edwards - a UNC grad.

Saturday morning, the group Line of Love that was organized through the social media site Facebook came with pink ribbon representing the fight against breast cancer and signs reading "Compassion, Kindness, Survivor, Faith, Life, Advocate, Mother, Daughter, Friend, Grace, and Hope.

The Westboro group gave up their protest around 12:40 p.m.

The Line of Love disbanded shortly thereafter.

The leader of the Westboro group said he was pleased with the counter protest turnout because it gave them a chance to spread their message to more people.

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