Charleston, W. Va. The group that picketed last month's memorial to the Sago Mine disaster victims wants to urge the state Senate to torpedo a bill targeting such protests after the House passed it Thursday.
"We're going to get there. We need to get to that state Legislature," Shirley Phelps-Roper, an attorney for Westboro Baptist Church, told The Associated Press. "If they have a hearing, we will try to be there to talk to them."
The Kansas-based church sees divine wrath behind the recent mining-related deaths of 16 West Virginia workers, including the dozen miners at Sago. Composed largely of the extended family of founder Fred Phelps, the church says the state is being punished for tolerating homosexuality, abortion, adultery and the like.
"As far as your manner of life, it is a microcosm of this nation," said Phelps-Roper, a daughter of the founder. "This nation is awash in filth."
But Phelps-Roper said her church now holds the Mountain State in particular contempt after its members held such signs as "Thank God for Dead Miners" and "God Hates Your Tears" outside the West Virginia Wesleyan College chapel in Buckhannon, where the Sago service was held Jan. 15.
In the wake of that protest, and aborted plans to picket the funerals for two miners killed Jan. 19 in a Logan County mine fire, the church fielded hundreds of threatening phone calls and e-mails, Phelps-Roper said.
"West Virginia has got the most bloodthirsty, vicious people I have ever encountered," she said. "It came to where I simply had to take the phone off the hook just to get some work done."
The House voted 96-1 with three absences to send the Senate a bill that would slap protesters with felony charges if they come within 500 feet of a funeral, funeral procession or memorial service. Those convicted would face up to five years in prison and a $2,000 fine.