Harrisburg, Pa. — A Kansas church group that routinely pickets military funerals has dropped plans to demonstrate at funerals of five Amish girls fatally shot in an attack on their one-room schoolhouse.
Instead, members of the Westboro Baptist Church issued a statement Wednesday saying a representative will appear on a nationally syndicated radio talk show.
The Web site of show host Mike Gallagher indicated that the group was offered an hour of airtime this morning in exchange for dropping the planned demonstration.
In preparation for the demonstration, Gov. Ed Rendell said earlier Wednesday that he appealed to the Topeka, Kan.-based group to allow the Amish to conduct their funerals in privacy.
Members of the Westboro Baptist Church routinely picket military funerals, saying that American servicemen and women are dying overseas because God is displeased that the United States tolerates homosexuals.
In a statement on its Web site, the church blamed Rendell for the deaths of the Amish children because of comments he made about the Westboro group on national television several months ago.
"They're insane," Rendell responded when asked about the group's statement.
In June, Rendell signed legislation into Pennsylvania law designed to restrict Westboro Baptist Church's picketing by making it a crime to demonstrate within 500 feet of a funeral or memorial service in Pennsylvania.
State police will provide security at the girls' funerals to keep reporters, the public and any potential demonstrators at a "respectful distance" from mourners, said Kate Philips, Rendell's press secretary. The Federal Aviation Administration also will keep aircraft, such as media helicopters, at least 2 1/2 miles away, she said.
The state police may allow a single helicopter in the sky for pool television coverage, if the Amish approve, she said.
"We're trying to look at every possible precaution available with the ultimate goal of allowing these people to mourn as we would want to if this happened to our family," Philips said.
Troopers also will limit travel and parking near the funerals, she said.