Tucson funeral pickets called off for Gallagher airtime, again


After receiving an offer to be on Salem’s Radio Network’s Mike Gallagher Show 1/11 (and other shows), Topeka, Kansas’ Westboro Baptist Church did not picket the funerals of any of the six victims of Tucson’s shooting rampage. This isn’t the first time the church has traded picketing a funeral for radio airtime. In October 2006, the church cancelled plans to protest at the funerals of five Amish girls who were executed in their Pennsylvania school in exchange for an hour of airtime on Gallagher. The church also cancelled plans to protest at Virginia Tech after a gunman killed 32 people in a massacre in April 2007 for airtime on Gallagher.

The issue of whether the members of the church have the right to picket at funerals is under consideration by the Supreme Court after a hearing in October. But the state of Arizona passed emergency legislation Tuesday banning the Topeka protestors from picketing at the funerals of last week’s shooting victims.
Church spokesperson Shirley Phelps-Roper said the decision boiled down to the church being able to communicate its message with as wide an audience as possible. She said Gallagher’s radio audience is estimated to be about 10 million people.

Phelps-Roper’s oldest daughters, Megan Phelps-Roper and Rebekah Phelps-Roperalso traveled to New York and to be at Gallagher’s studio.

Westboro Baptist Church has received notoriety for its picketing and protests at military funerals, saying the deaths were the result of God’s judgment on the US  for its tolerance of homosexuality.

Upon hearing of the church’s plans to protest at the funerals of the Tucson shooting victims, some residents of the city began to organize efforts to shield mourners from the picketers.

As for trading picketing at funerals for radio airtime, Phelps-Roper said, “It’s always a question of where can you put the words in the most ears.”

It’s a bizarre tradeoff: The church had also sparked outrage when it announced it would protest the 1/13 funeral of 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green, who was one of six people killed during Saturday’s shooting spree that also wounded U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. That protest was called off  in exchange for the church being given airtime on KXXT-AM in the Phoenix suburb of Tolleson, AZ (The Steve Sanchez Show) and CFNY-FM “The Edge” in Toronto (The Dean Blundell Show).

Meanwhile, a team of four other Westboro Baptist Church members on Friday will be in DC to picket the memorial service for  Richard Holbrooke, who was special envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan before his death in December. Another group of Westboro picketers are to go this weekend to LA, where they will picket the Golden Globes Awards ceremony, said the Topeka Capital-Journal story.

RBR-TVBR observation: We applaud Gallagher and the other talkers for trying to protect the mourners from being picketed at these funerals. We find it hard to believe that the church’s attention mechanism revolves around almost any recent death on America’s tolerance for homosexuality—a nine-year old girl? But needless to say, it gets attention and Talk radio is once again a focal point.