Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Free to Damn Matthew? Fred Phelps's Plan to Erect a Monument in Casper, Wyo., to Celebrate Matthew Shepard's "Damnation" Has Caused a Constitutional Battle over the Limits of Free Speech

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Free to Damn Matthew? Fred Phelps's Plan to Erect a Monument in Casper, Wyo., to Celebrate Matthew Shepard's "Damnation" Has Caused a Constitutional Battle over the Limits of Free Speech

Article excerpt

Officials in Casper, Wyo., home to the burial site of gay murder victim Matthew Shepard, have recently been grappling with two big issues: free speech and hate. At press time they were scrambling to prevent the installation of a monument in a public park that would celebrate the date that Shepard "entered hell."

The monument's sponsor is notorious antigay pastor Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., who has long traveled the country with his family, setting up pickets to declare God's hatred for gay people, including a demonstration at Shepard's 1998 funeral.

"The city council as well as probably everyone, or most everyone, in the community is very much opposed to having [Phelps's] monument placed not only in a city park but anywhere in the community," said city manager Thomas Forslund.

But Phelps appears to have a powerful ally: the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, whose jurisdiction includes Wyoming. Phelps cited rulings in Utah cases in 1999 and 2002 that require equal access to public property under the constitutional protection of freedom of speech. Because a privately sponsored monument to the Ten Commandments sits in the same Casper park Phelps's argument goes, the city council must open the park to his. …

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