TUCSON, AZ — The leader of the county Republican party here says he’s inclined to oppose the state legislature’s efforts to prevent the Westboro Baptist Church from capitalizing on Saturday’s shootings at a constituent event for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) by staging protests outside the funeral of the shootings youngest victim, 9-year-old Christina Green. But that doesn’t mean he’s prepared to let the protests go unhindered.
Brian Miller, chair of the Pima County GOP, says the nascent effort to pass a law that keeps Westboro from harassing mourners sounds to him like a dangerous step toward limiting First Amendment rights.
“I don’t know what’s in the law, but I do think it’s indicative of always looking to the law to solve problems,” Miller told me in an interview tonight. He said the county GOP is against those kinds of solutions.
“We will not sign on or advocate any policy that limits free speech,” he said.But Miller plans to join in on an effort to keep Westboro from its media-hogging mission. The county GOP and the Pima County Democrats plan to work jointly to stage a counter-protest that Miller says will “block” Westboro and its infamous leader, Fred Phelps, from getting close to the mourners.
The simple plan: when Phelps and his followers show up, the county GOP and Democratic Party (as well as other residents of Tucson) will stand between them and the funeral. Westboro has faced many similar counter-protests across the country with varying degrees of success. Miller said he plans to see to it there are enough members of his group in attendance to block the Westboro protesters entirely.
“In a very peaceable way, we will neutralize them,” he said.
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