Originally published on Advocate.com November 01 2003 12:00 AM ET
Fred Phelps, antigay pastor at Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., announced plans Wednesday to place monuments denouncing slain gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard in cities and towns across the nation. The monument, which proclaims that Shepard is in hell, will be placed in cities that have Ten Commandments monuments on display in publicly owned facilities, Phelps said. "We are going to pockmark this nation from sea to shining sea with this message on the monument: 'Matthew Shepard entered hell October the 12th, 1998, at age 21 in defiance of God's warning, Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind; it is abomination--Leviticus 18:22,'" Phelps said in a telephone interview. "That is the message this nation needs, whether it knows it or not or whether it wants it or not. And that's the message we are determined the nation is going to receive." The announcement comes on the heels of a decision by the Casper, Wyo., city council to reject placement of one of Phelps's monuments on city-owned property. Casper is the first place Phelps has tried to place one of his antigay monoliths; Rupert, Ida., is the second. In a letter sent Wednesday to Minidoka County, Ida., Phelps announced his intention to purchase "a three-foot by four-foot section of your courthouse lawn for erection of a six-foot granite monument" identical to the monument he wants to place in Casper, the letter said. Phelps made this request to Minidoka County because the local chapter of the American Legion wants to buy a piece of land on the courthouse lawn to erect a Ten Commandments monument, the letter said. Minidoka County clerk Duane Smith said it is unclear whether the American Legion could legally buy a piece of the courthouse property for any purpose. "What we need to do is see what authority the county has over the property that our buildings are sitting on," Smith said. "There is some question if it is not used by the county for county purposes, the deed reverts back to the city. We are not sure we have the proper ownership to allow it even if we wanted to." The issue of whether to allow Phelps to buy a portion of the courthouse property cannot be addressed until the county finds out if it can legally sell courthouse property, Smith said. However, the possibility of someone like Phelps wanting to put up a monument espousing unpopular views was brought up Monday at the Minidoka County Commission meeting at which the American Legion members made their proposal, he added. If it is possible for the county to sell a small portion of courthouse property, the sale would be conducted as an auction in accordance with Idaho law, Smith said. Phelps's plans to place his anti-Shepard monuments around the nation suffered a setback Tuesday, when the Casper city council unanimously voted to reject his request to place one of his monoliths on city property. "Mr. Phelps, you are not welcome" in Casper, said Councilman Paul Bertoglio before the vote. "Under no circumstances will your monument be allowed to be placed on city property." The council on Tuesday also approved a plan to remove the city's Ten Commandments monument from City Park and place it in a new city-owned monument plaza on the southeast corner of Beech and Second streets. By keeping the display of the Ten Commandments on public property and simultaneously disallowing the display of his monument, Phelps, a disbarred lawyer, contends the city council has taken actions that are in violation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. "They made a law that we can't have our religious message alongside other religious messages," Phelps said. "One thing that is relatively immutable in the opinions of the Supreme Court over the decades is that government has no business deciding who is right about religion and who is wrong about religion. I don't see how you guys could be so doggone dumb as not to see that."