KOKOMO, IND. Hundreds of mourners - many carrying American flags, wearing military fatigues or motorcycle gear - paid tribute to a soldier at his funeral Monday, while a church group that has protested at military services across the country failed to show.
The Westboro Baptist Church had publicized on its Web site plans to picket the funeral of Army Sgt. Rickey Jones. Gov. Mitch Daniels cited the planned protest as one of the reasons he quickly signed a bill into law that makes disorderly conduct within 500 feet of a funeral a felony.
Shirley Phelps-Roper, daughter of Westboro founder Fred Phelps and an attorney for the group, said members decided not to attend Jones' funeral after hearing suggestions that the group might be behind vandalism at the soldier's home.
"Every person in the free world knows that's not what we're about," said Phelps.
Members of the Topeka, Kan., church have protested at services across the country, claiming that soldiers are dying in Iraq because the United States harbors homosexuals.
The group last week offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those who did vandalize Jones' home. Relatives and neighbors said the home in the city 50 miles north of Indianapolis was egged and that someone had called the family saying they were glad Jones was dead.
A noticeable police presence did greet 300 to 400 mourners, as did 200 to 300 supporters lined up outside the Crossroads Community Church to pay tribute to Jones, 21, who was among four soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division killed Feb. 22 in Iraq.
"We're just here to support the family," said Dick Forrey, a Vietnam veteran from Greentown who acts as a spokesman for the Howard County Vietnam Veterans.
Daniels said before the funeral that he hoped the new law will help keep protesters at bay.
"I hope," he said. "In honesty, what will make a difference, is when the news media stops taking pictures of hate-filled people."
The Westboro group also did not show up for a funeral Saturday in Missouri, which recently enacted a law that bans picketing and protests at funerals.
Other military groups at Jones' funeral included the Patriot Guard, VFW, Marine Corps League, Rolling Thunder and Abate, a motorcycle rights group.
Three members of Abate held a massive banner: "We are here to honor this brave young soldier. His courage and sacrifice will never be forgotten."
Besides Daniels, U.S. Reps. Chris Chocola and Steve Buyer, all Republicans, were to attend.
Disorderly conduct at funerals, burials, funeral processions or viewings in Indiana is now punishable by six months to three years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
At least a dozen other states, including Illinois and Ohio, are considering similar measures. Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle has already signed legislation banning protests at funerals.