Phelps hate monument stirs protest in Boise
December 16 2003 12:00 AM ET
Protesters held several demonstrations Sunday in Boise, Ida., over an existing Ten Commandments monument in a public park, a proposed Ten Commandments marker for the Idaho statehouse, and a proposed antigay monument in the park, which is being pushed by homophobic crusader Fred Phelps. A coalition from various local churches gathered in Julia Davis Park in support of the Ten Commandments monument, which was erected by the Fraternal Order of Eagles in 1965. A group supporting the antigay monument picketed several Boise churches Sunday morning, and counterdemonstrations were held to protest the antigay effort.
The group supporting the Ten Commandments monument had 10,000 yard signs to distribute to residents backing the marker. "I have a strong belief the Ten Commandments monument should stay on public ground because it's the very foundation of American law," said Colleen Schaub, one of the supporters. The group also supports Alabama supreme court chief justice Roy Moore, who was removed from office on November 13 for refusing an order by U.S. district judge Myron Thompson to move a Ten Commandments monument from the rotunda of the Alabama statehouse. Speaking at the rally was Republican state senator Gerry Sweet of Meridian, who plans to introduce a bill directing that a Ten Commandments monument be placed on the first floor of the Idaho statehouse. He said he plans to approach Gov. Dirk Kempthorne with his proposal and hopes "he's very supportive when the legislation reaches his desk for him to sign. It may be the most important piece of legislation I'll ever work on."
But attorney Marty Durand of the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho said Saturday that placing a religious monument on state property is implied endorsement of religion, and a could easily order the removal of such a monument. Some residents are leery of religious symbols in the statehouse as well as the park. "It just creates opportunity for other horrible groups wanting monuments of their own," said Boise resident Danny Amspacher. "It's not a predicament we should have to be in."
The Reverend Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., wants to erect a monument in Boise condemning slain Wyoming college student Matthew Shepard for being gay. Shepard died in 1998 after being beaten into a coma near Laramie, Wyo. Phelps's monument would say that Shepard lies in hell because of his sexual orientation. Phelps argues that if the government allows one religious marker, it must also allow monuments of other beliefs or it will unconstitutionally be promoting one over
another. Phelps earlier submitted his proposal to city officials. The Boise Parks and Recreation Commission rejected his request, and his group was on hand to complain Sunday. A similar move by Phelps to erect the same monument in Casper, Wyo., recently led city officials there to remove their own Ten Commandments monument from a local park to avoid having to comply with Phelps's request.
Phelps's supporters picketed Boise Episcopal churches, the Catholic Church of the Sacred Heart, and Community Church of the Valley. In response, members of local human rights organizations counterdemonstrated against Phelps's group. About 150 protesters were at Sacred Heart alone, said Pam Baldwin, director of the Interfaith Alliance. "My heart is warmed by how many people have come out today," Baldwin said. Afterward, the groups gathered at the Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial in the park. Tish Ryan was one of the participants. She said she attended the vigil because her son was gay and died of AIDS complications in 1986. "He's not in hell," she said. "This event is very personal to me."