Fred Phelps and his daughter Shirley Phelps-Roper, who belong to the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas, were planning to come to Britain to protest outside a performance of “The Laramie Project,” the Times of London reported Friday.
Phelps is well known in the United States for his vicious hatred of gays. He and his family form the bulk of Wesboro Baptist Church and frequently picket the funerals of soldiers, GLBTs and AIDS victims. They were apparently hoping to do something similar at the performance of The Laramie Project when they were blocked from entering the country.
“The Home Secretary has excluded both Fred Phelps and his daughter Shirley Phelps-Roper from the U.K.,” a Border Agency spokesman said. “Both these individuals have engaged in unacceptable behavior by inciting hatred against a number of communities.”
Peter Tatchell of the gay rights group OutRage! did not agree with the Home Secretary, believing that even people as bigoted as the Phelps’ deserve to be heard.
The Phelpses are odious, homophobic bigots. They give Christianity a bad name,” Tatchell said. “Objectionable though they are, I don’t agree with them being banned.”
Restrictive actions taken by countries where free speech is (and has always been) far less potent than in the United States are often used by anti-gay groups here to paint a frightening picture of the future. In that scenario, equality for GLBTs is connected with repression of the right to present dissenting views.
No doubt this incident will provide more fuel for some to make that argument, even though we are certain Phelps and his daughter will be able to re-enter the US without incident where they can continue to say whatever they want.