RALEIGH — Police expect more than 200 protesters in downtown Raleigh this morning - up to 10 picketing Elizabeth Edwards' funeral service and the rest picketing those pickets.
Members of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., say they'll picket at Edwards' service because of her views on homosexuality and their mission of "promoting awareness of the dangers of homosexuality," according to Raleigh Police Department spokesman Jim Sughrue.
A local group, "Line of Love," says about 200 of its members will hold a counter protest during Edwards' service in support of "promoting proper respect for funerals."
Both groups have been issued permits for their protests, one to Jonathan Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church and the other to Raleigh resident Susan Burcham with Line of Love.
Westboro members will gather from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the south side of the 100 block of West Edenton Street near its intersection with North Salisbury Street, according to a picket and parade application made public Friday. They have indicated at least two of its participants are under the age of 18, Sughrue said.
Line of Love members will be allowed to gather from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. across the street, on the north side of the 100 block of West Edenton.
Edwards' funeral service will be held about two blocks away at the Edenton Street United Methodist Church.
Sughrue said there would be a police presence both at the funeral and at the picketing sites, but he declined to discuss the security measures officers will employ to maintain the peace. The patrols normally assigned to the downtown district will be supplemented by additional officers normally assigned to other parts of the city, he said.
Edwards will be buried at Oakwood Cemetery. Sughrue said he is confident that the Westboro members will not continue their picketing at the cemetery.
"We have worked with this group before, and when they have told us what their intentions are in the past, they have followed their intentions," he said.
Thick traffic expected
Police are encouraging anyone who is planning to attend the funeral or participate in the picket demonstrations to come early in order to find parking. Motorists should expect traffic delays, temporary road closings and alternate routes. Authorities are also encouraging anyone who does not have to be downtown tomorrow to avoid the area.
Westboro Baptist is known for its disruptions of soldiers' burials and provocative protests of homosexuality. The tiny church, whose congregation consists largely of the extended family of its pastor, came into the national spotlight when its members picketed the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a young man from Wyoming who was beaten to death by two men because of his homosexuality.
The church sparked outrage when it announced in a news release its intentions to picket Elizabeth Edwards' funeral and by suggesting that God killed Edwards' 16-year-old son in 1996 and gave her terminal breast cancer because of her support for government recognition of same-sex marriages.
Line of Love announced this week that its members intend to circle the block around Edenton Street United Methodist Church to provide a human shield between the Westboro members and the Edwards family.
Dan Johnson, an administrator with the nearly 200-year-old red-brick church, which fronts Edenton Street for the entire block from Dawson Street to McDowell, said the demonstrations during the funeral were "out of the church's hands."
"It's our job," Johnson said "to provide an environment for the family so they can have closure."
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