Phelps Proposes Monument Denouncing Matthew Shepard
October 17 2003 12:00 AM ET
An antigay Kansas minister is intent on erecting a monument denouncing Matthew Shepard, and he's citing legal precedent to do it. To mark the fifth anniversary of Shepard's murder, the Reverend Fred Phelps wants to put up a monument in a Casper, Wyo., park that would read, "Matthew Shepard entered Hell October 12, 1998, at age 21 in defiance of God's solemn warning: Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind; it is abomination. Leviticus 18:22." Phelps, who led an antigay protest at Shepard's funeral in Casper, claims that the presence of a Ten Commandments display in the city park means that all monuments must be allowed. He bases his contention on two decisions by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, saying that if municipalities allow one group to put up a monument in a public place, they must give equal treatment to other organizations. The court rulings, in 2002 and 1999, came in lawsuits filed by members of the Summum religion who wanted to put up their own monuments on public property in Ogden, Utah, and Salt Lake County, where a Ten Commandments display was already installed. Both Utah and Wyoming are part of the 10th circuit. Casper officials oppose Phelps's proposal and are considering returning the Ten Commandments monument to the local Fraternal Order of Eagles, the service organization that originally gave it to the city, The Salt Lake Tribune reported. Salt Lake City civil rights attorney Brian Barnard, who represented Summum, said moving the monument to the Eagles' private property would resolve the situation. "If they remove it and they say, 'Henceforth, no one can put up public monuments,' the city's not obligated to consider the reverend's horrific monument," Barnard said. But Phelps said removing the monument to private property won't stop him. If that happens, he said, he and members of his Westboro Baptist Church would either file a lawsuit or buy land in Casper to display their monument. He said the granite display, which will cost about $15,000, will be completed in about a month and transported to Wyoming by trailer.