The Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., announced on its Web site Tuesday that it plans to picket the funeral of Pvt. Theodore “Coty” West in Berea on Saturday.

The group has frequently picketed the funeral services of U.S. service personnel to protest what they regard as the military and the public’s acceptance of homosexuality. The group’s leader, Fred Phelps, says U.S. soldiers are dying as the result of God’s Judgment on America.

West, 23, who was serving with the U.S. Army’s First Cavalry Division in Iraq was killed by a roadside bomb on Nov. 29.

His funeral is planned for 1 p.m. Saturday at Berea Baptist Church, 310 Chestnut, in Berea.

Berea Police Chief Dwayne Brumley said city officials had not heard from the Topeka church, but “as long as pickets stay on the sidewalk and do not block traffic or take any other disruptive action” the city cannot remove them from near the church.

The Berea Police Department began preparing for the protest after learning about Westboro Baptist Church’s plans from its Web site, Brumley said.

The chief said he was not be surprised if local veterans’ group staged a counter protest Saturday.

“At other locations in Kentucky and elsewhere around the county, veterans have sought to shield families so they would not see funeral protesters,” he said.

“Our job is to enforce the law and protect the rights of individuals,” Brumley said, “and that’s what we will do.”

Leaders of local veterans’ organizations said Wednesday they had not heard about the funeral protest but would begin discussing possible action.

The 2006 Kentucky General Assembly passed legislation that would keep pickets at least 300 feet from any funeral or other memorial service, but its enforcement was blocked Sept. 26 on First Amendment grounds by U.S. District Judge Karen Caldwell.

Bart McQueary of Harrodsburg, who has participated in funeral protests sponsored by Westboro Baptist Church, filed the suit with support from Westboro Baptist Church and the American Civil Liberties Union, said state Sen. Ed Worley, D-Richmond, who listed the funeral protest legislation as one of the major successes of the 2006 General Assembly as he ran for re-election.

The legislation, House Bill 333 and Senate Bill 93, was passed without opposition in either body, said Susan Straub of the Legislative Research Commission.

“These people (funeral protesters) are the maggots of society,” Worley said. “Anyone who would stage a protest during a funeral has to be among the lowest forms of life.”

“I’m sorry the federal courts have blocked enforcement of what I believe is a law that every good person in Kentucky supports,” Worley said.

Attorney General Greg Stumbo is appealing Judge Caldwell’s ruling, he said, and “I hope we can win on appeal.”

Bill Robinson can be reached at brobinson@richmondregister.com or at 623-1669, Ext. 267.

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