Church group won't picket funerals of Tucson shooting victims - East Valley Tribune: Arizona

Church group won't picket funerals of Tucson shooting victims

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Posted: Wednesday, January 12, 2011 11:08 am | Updated: 9:06 am, Thu Jan 13, 2011.

Members of the Westboro Baptist Church won't picket the funerals of the victims of Saturday's shooting in Tucson that left six dead.

Church spokeswoman Shirley Phelps Roper told Capitol Media Services Wednesday she has accepted offers from hosts of various radio shows for air time in exchange for giving up the right to have their protests and carry their signs proclaiming "God Hates Fags.''

"What we're doing is trying to be as smart as possible,'' she said. Roper said her congregation believes it can reach more people with the air time than it could with picketing the funerals.

The first breakthrough came early Wednesday when Phoenix talk show host Steve Sanchez agreed to have her on his show on radio station KXXT on Saturday morning.

Sanchez acknowledged he is giving Roper a wider audience than she might reach directly with the protests. But he said that is preferable to having church members try to interfere with the grieving of the family 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green.

"I can take a bullet for 30 minutes,'' he said, describing Roper as "a real nutcase.''

While Sanchez' offer took the Green funeral off the table, it took a promise of an hour on the nationally syndicated Mike Gallagher radio show to get Roper to give up the other planned protests. That includes the funeral of John Roll, the presiding judge of federal courts in Arizona, as well as picketing at both Tucson Magnet High School and the site of Saturday's shooting.

Gallagher said he's not simply turning over his microphone -- and his audience -- to Roper. The deal he made with her requires her to debate with Dinesh D'Souza, president of The King's College in New York City and the author of several books, including, "What's So Great About Christianity.''

And Gallagher said he's not concerned that Roper will be able to generate positive publicity for her church.

"They will be exposed for exactly who they are,'' he said. "My audience nationally isn't going to be hard-pressed to come to the conclusion pretty quickly that what they say is bizarre and over the top and irrational.''

Gallagher said he has made similar arrangements with Roper and her church twice before to keep them away from funerals, once after the 2006 shooting deaths of six Amish school children and a year later after the killing of 32 students at Virginia Tech.

"Every time we've done it, it's unpleasant,'' Gallagher said.

"I get a lot of criticism for it, which I expect and I understand, probably deserve,'' he continued.

"But it just seems to me that my radio show is a lot less significant than the pain and the anguish of what these families are experiencing,'' Gallagher said. "I don't want these families to have to see them.''

Sanchez agreed.

"I believe in the media we have responsibilities to use our mountains and to use them sometimes for moral good, as opposed for ratings,'' he said.

"We all know what she's about,'' Sanchez continued. "We know that she's a hate-monger.''

Roper says the whole issue has been a win for the church, first with the publicity over the picketing and now getting a national audience.

"Already, if we were to sit here in our little corner of this cold state right now and don't do one thing, don't step out to do one thing, we have already saturated this nation with words,'' she said. "Everything else is gravy.''

Sanchez, too, has had at least one prior encounter with Roper. She was on his show last October.

"She's a real nut case,'' he said. "We know she's a hate-monger.''

But while Sanchez isn't bringing on someone to debate her, he said that doesn't mean her comments will go unchallenged.

Sanchez said he knows the Scripture as well as anyone else. And he said he's prepared to debate her on her own terms.

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