Topeka — Letters warning other cities of protests by Fred Phelps Sr. and his anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church have been appreciated in cities where the protests have occurred, Mayor Bill Bunten said.
Bunten has been writing the letters since late last year, in an effort to disassociate Topeka from Phelps.
Bunten provided Topeka City Council members with copies of letters he has received from four mayors and one official for an unincorporated community who had received the letters.
"Prior to these letters, the presence of the Phelps clan brought a lot of anger toward Topeka and its citizens," Bunten wrote in a memo to council members last week. "'What kind of a city do you have?' was often the disgusted response, and many were even harsher."
Bunten said the letters represent "scores of phone calls, e-mails and letters that express their thanks for alerting them to the impending presence of this group and to assure us they have no animosity toward our city."
Westboro Baptist Church has staged anti-gay protests since 1991 and had switched its focus in recent months to picketing funerals of soldiers who were killed overseas. The church contends that soldiers are dying because God is punishing the U.S. for its support of homosexuals.
Bunten showed the council letters from Madison, Wis., Mayor David J. Ciesiewicz; Iowa City, Iowa, Mayor Ross Wilburn; Orange City, Fla., Mayor Albert T. Erwin; Sutherlin, Ore., Mayor Joe Mongiovi; and Ross Chichester, chairman of the town board for Minden, an unincorporated community in Nevada.
Ciesiewicz wrote that Madison residents do not connect Topeka with Phelps' message just because Phelps happens to live in the city.
"I am sure that the vast majority of Topeka residents would join the vast majority of Madisonians in sharing disgust for Mr. Phelps' messages of hatred and intolerance," Ciesiewicz wrote.
In a letter dated Oct. 6, Wilburn thanked Bunten for writing him that Westboro planned to picket a funeral for Kampha Sourivong, 20, who was killed in Iraq. He said the letter would help Iowa City officials be better prepared for the protest.
"Unfortunately, our town has been visited by Mr. Phelps and his followers before," Wilburn wrote.