Lonnie Pursifull already was planning early Saturday morning, long before funeral services began for LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley, to meet with Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church leaders, specifically Westboro founder Fred Phelps Sr.
"So, when he gets here at 10 o'clock, I'm going to preach to him," Pursifull said as he stood next to a spot on the sidewalk where police had spray-painted a boundary line.
Pursifull is used to having closer access to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as they file in and out of the LDS Church Conference Center, which was the site of services for President Hinckley.
But a new Utah law prohibits protests from taking place within 200 feet of a funeral service an hour before or after a funeral. The law does allow for demonstrating along a funeral procession route, as long as clear passage is maintained along the way.
Pursifull said he is a preacher, not a protester, and that the new law takes away his right to free speech. He said there's a difference between what he does and the Phelps family, infamous for showing up at military funerals around the country.
"Phelps and his bunch don't preach, they protest," Pursifull said.
Instead of Fred Phelps, four Westboro members comprised the church's showing at a city-permitted protest zone on the southwest corner of State Street and North Temple this morning.
"We don't want to be in their faces," said Westboro member Rachel Hockenbarger.
She brought along her son, Stephen, 11, brother-in-law David Hockenbarger, 17, and Sara Phelps, who stood on top of an American flag next to a curb while she sang hymns. It's estimated there are between 70 and 100 Westboro members.
All four of Saturday's protesters held up signs, usually one in each hand, that provoked passersby to protest right back with honks, hand gestures and shouts like, "Go home, you're evil."
Keeping protesters, panhandlers and street preachers in line Saturday were "a few dozen" Salt Lake City police officers and LDS Church security, a few of whom were keeping an eye on the Westboro members until the end of their two-hour permit at 11 a.m.
With headphones on, Taylor Jensen held up a bunch of red heart-shaped balloons and his own sign that read, "God loves everyone, no exceptions." Jensen, standing a few feet away from Pursifull, said his goal was to "detract" from negative attention.By 10 a.m., however, the ideological confrontation that Pursifull predicted would take place hadn't happened. One man who identified himself as "Tommyrot" stopped to ask the Westboro protesters what message they were trying to convey. Afterward, he said he still didn't get it.
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