Members of the controversial Westboro Baptist Church picketed the funeral of Elizabeth Edwards in Raleigh, N.C. Saturday. But they were vastly outnumbered by a “human buffer” of people who quietly stood in the rain singing Christmas carols and carrying signs reading “God loves Elizabeth Edwards” or simply “Grace” and “Hope.”
Westboro is a small, unaffiliated church in Topeka, Kansas, whose congregation consists mainly of the Rev. Fred Phelps and members of his family. Frequently described as a “hate group,” it’s known for its extreme views on homosexuality.
The group believes that God is punishing America for its growing acceptance of gay rights by killing US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Members typically show up at the funerals of war veterans carrying signs reading “God hates fags.”
There have been public complaints about the protests and attempts to legislate against them. But that’s been difficult in light of the constitutional right of freedom of expression no matter how offensive. The US Supreme Court is considering a case brought by the father of a US marine killed in Iraq.
In a 2007 interview, Mrs. Edwards described herself as “completely comfortable with gay marriage,” hence the Westboro protesters at the funeral. But on Saturday just five church members (two of them children) showed up to picket, waving hateful signs about Mrs. Edwards and the United Methodist Church where the service was held.
The funeral itself was attended by some 1,200 people – Edwards family members, friends of Elizabeth Edwards, and public officials, including Sen. John Kerry (D) of Massachusetts, who chose former senator John Edwards to be his running mate in the 2004 presidential election.
It was since revealed that John Edwards had had an extramarital affair resulting in a child out of wedlock. Edwards was at the funeral with his children but did not speak during the service for his wife, from whom he had been separated.
"She has been a light house to all of us,” the Edwards' oldest daughter, Cate, said in a eulogy to her mother. “She's always been that source of light to us. Every lesson she has taught us has become part of our ethic.”
In a statement, the family said, "Today we have lost the comfort of Elizabeth's presence, but she remains the heart of this family.”