Religious leaders and city officials are asking residents of Sioux City, Iowa, to ignore members of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., who promise to picket area churches on Sunday and the Woodbury County, Iowa, courthouse on Monday. About 15 members of the clan, led by antigay reverend Fred Phelps, are scheduled to hold a protest outside five churches during Sunday services. Sioux City is being targeted because Judge Jeffrey A. Neary granted a divorce to a lesbian couple who had been joined in a civil ceremony in Vermont. Neary granted the divorce in November, then later vacated the dissolution and amended his original judgment to say the civil union no longer existed.
"I'm concerned too about the children," said the Reverend Craig Collison, priest at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, one of the churches being targeted by the protesters. "I've tried to tell my parents of the kids that are coming that there will be explicit things on these signs. But don't stay away from church. Just don't look at these people, don't wave, don't do anything." City manager Paul Eckert has encouraged citizens not to confront the protesters. "We will provide an appropriate police presence at those sites," Eckert said Wednesday.