By Judy Keen, USA TODAY
TOPEKA — Laws passed by Congress and 29 states to prevent Fred Phelps and his congregation from disrupting military funerals have not ended their protests or silenced their anti-gay message.
President Bush signed a law on Memorial Day banning protests within 300 feet of national cemeteries. Last month, he said it "ensures that families of fallen servicemembers will not have to endure protests during military funerals."
It hasn't worked out that way. Phelps' followers have picketed at 15 funerals in 13 states since Aug. 1. Ten of those states have passed laws meant to restrict the protests. Pickets even showed up Monday in Shanksville, Pa., for a 9/11 commemoration at the site where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed.
Phelps, a former civil rights lawyer who founded the unaffiliated church, says the laws are unconstitutional because they infringe on free speech. The American Civil Liberties Union is helping him challenge the laws in two states.
Phelps says he's enjoying the ruckus. "How in the world did we get this humble message from this humble little old nothing of a church to shake the whole country up?" he asks in a recent interview.
Phelps believes the deaths of U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and the 2001 terrorist attacks are an angry God's punishment for the country's tolerance of homosexuality. "This nation has ticked off the Almighty, and it's too late to repent," he says.