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Newtown foregoes anti-Westboro ordinance

Updated 6:59 am, Wednesday, December 19, 2012
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NEWTOWN -- Reacting to reports that Westboro Baptist Church is planning to protest at funerals for the victims of last week's massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, town officials briefly considered -- but ultimately didn't act on -- a proposed emergency ordinance to keep members of the controversial church away from the services.

The measure, based on a state ordinance barring protests in close proximity to funerals, was considered by Legislative Council Chairman Jeff Capeci as something to address Monday night at a possible emergency meeting of the Legislative Council, but he ultimately chose not to call a meeting.

Ever since Saturday, when Shirley Phelps-Roper, a spokesperson for the controversial Topeka, Kan.-based church, announced on Twitter that the group would be coming to Connecticut, the Internet has been buzzing with condemnations of the group.

Westboro Baptist has gained notoriety for attending the funerals of members of the military killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and claiming their deaths are God's response to the country's tolerance of homosexuality.

Capeci said he opted not to raise the proposal after discussions with other town officials, including Police Chief Michael Kehoe and the town's legal counsel. Capeci declined to say what they discussed.

Later that night, Capeci also called Police Commission Chairman Paul Mangiafico to brief him on the decision.

Church members are attributing the murders of 26 students and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School to Connecticut's recent legalization of gay marriage.

Earlier Monday, the Legislative Council, along with the Board of Education and Board of Finance, did approve an agreement with the town of Monroe that allows Sandy Hook students and faculty to use the vacant Chalk Hill School when classes resume. No date has been set for that to happen.

There is no evidence that Westboro members are really coming to Newtown -- the church is also known for making such threats of protest, then not following through.

Two years ago, Westboro Baptist members claimed they would picket outside the Brookfield Theatre for the Arts' production of "The Laramie Project," a play about a gay teen who was brutally beaten and killed. The threatened protest did not materialize.

The church, founded by Baptist preacher and disbarred attorney Fred Phelps, consists of about 40 people, mostly members of his family. Their previous actions at military funerals have featured posters that say "God Hates Fags" and "Thank God for Dead Soldiers."

The first two funerals for the Sandy Hook victims, first-graders Jack Pinto and Noah Pozner, were held Monday, and several more are scheduled for the rest of the week.

Phelps-Roper's announcement sparked a response from the Internet hacker collective Anonymous, which published private information on many Westboro members, including email addresses, phone numbers and home addresses.

Tweets also have condemned the church and hinted at possible retribution.

"Keep it up Westboro and the hate you kindle might end up aimed at you. But then that would just be gods will, right?" Twitter user "Jan B" posted Monday afternoon.

"For the very 1st. time in my life, I have to approve the actions of "the hacktivist group Anonymous"....Enough is enough. Stop all Westboro's activities by all means necessary," a Twitter poster identified as "Bill of Rights" said.

jpirro@newstimes.com; 203-731-3342