'Line of Love' overwhelms tiny turnout of protesters

Staff WriterDecember 12, 2010 

It was five against hundreds.

When the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., announced that it would protest at Elizabeth Edwards' funeral Saturday, counter-protesters started organizing. By 11:30 a.m., the two sides squared off against each other across Edenton Street.

Jonathan Phelps, the seventh of minister Fred Phelps' 13 children, and four others - two adults and two children - were inside their barricades next to First Baptist Church-Salisbury Street, much to the consternation of that congregation.

"We're here preaching the Gospel," Phelps said, holding signs that read: "America is Doomed" and "Thank God for Dead Soldiers."

Referring to Edwards, he said, "She told the youth of this nation that it's OK to be gay and that God is a big liar."

The tiny church, which consists mainly of the Rev. Phelps' extended family, has garnered national attention for its homophobic, vitriolic protests outside funerals for those who served in the military. The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments last month in a lawsuit filed by the father of a dead Marine who sued the church over its protest at his son's funeral. A ruling is expected next year.

Diverse motives

Across the street on the sidewalk outside the N.C. Department of Justice, hundreds gathered behind their own barricades to support the Edwards family and denounce the fringe church's actions.

"I'm sick about hearing about these people going to funerals and spreading their hate," said Bob Krasnicka, 48, of Wake Forest.

Nearby, Carol Jenkins, 56, of Raleigh and Linda Mooney, 60, of Greenville, said they came to help shield Edwards' children from what they see as hate speech. "Elizabeth Edwards was the epitome of strength," Jenkins said. "And grace," Mooney added.

Also in the crowd, Kevin Perrotti, 30, of Rolesville, said, "Elizabeth Edwards stood up for us so we can stand up for her."

The counter-protesters were a diverse lot. There were the "Line of Love" folks. There was the man who brought extra poster board and markers so others could make signs. There was the woman who brought a roll of pink crepe paper for folks to tie in strips around their arms. There was the woman who handed out American flag umbrellas to keep people dry in the steady drizzle. There was the trio holding lit candles who had tape across their mouths bearing the words: "Love," "Peace" and "Hope."

The crowd cheered when other supporters of the Edwards family drove past on Edenton Street: a half-dozen motorcyclists revving their engines, a car packed with kissing gay teenagers, a red minivan blaring a heart-wrenching rendition of "Taps."

The cheering and chanting continued until about 12:35 p.m., when the Westboro protesters packed up and left.

Then the crowd broke into song: "Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey-ey, goodbye."

andrea.weigl@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4848

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