74
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      Controversial religious group to picket soldiers' funerals

      According to the Topeka, Kan. based church's website, members will be picketing the funerals of Sgt. John D Meador II and 1st Lt. Ryan Rawl this Saturday. The chuch has not posted a notice regarding a protest at the funeral of Sgt. First Class Matthew Thomas of Easley.

      COLUMBIA (WACH, AP) - Members of the Westboro Baptist Church plan to picket the memorial services of two fallen South Carolina soldiers.

      According to the Topeka, Kan. based church's website, members will be picketing the funerals of Sgt. John D Meador II and 1st Lt. Ryan Rawl this Saturday. The chuch has not posted a notice regarding a protest at the funeral of Sgt. First Class Matthew Thomas.

      The organization says, "Military funerals have become pagan orgies of idolatrous blasphemy, where they pray to the dunghill gods of Sodom and play taps to a fallen fool."

      Picketing done by members is described on the WBC website as "peaceful sidewalk demonstrations" that oppose "nation-destroying filth." The group claims to display "large, colorful signs containing Bible words and sentiments" during protests.

      The picket signs, which some perceive as graphic and hateful, cause pain to grieving families.

      The Supreme Court ruled in March of 2011 that the church members who protest outside of military funerals have the right to free speech and are protected by the U.S. Constitution.

      The group also protested the funeral of fallen Marion County Marine Gunnery Sgt. Ralph "E.J." Pate who was killed in Afghanistan in June 2011.

      1st Lt. Ryan Rawl of Lexington, Sgt. First Class Matthew Thomas of Easley and Sgt. John Meador of Columbia were killed Wednesday by a suicide bomber Khowst City, Khowst Province, Afghanistan. Five other South Carolina National Guard soldiers were also wounded in the attack. Sgt. Meador was posthumously promoted to sergeant.

      The bodies of Sgt. Meador and 1st Lt. Rawl returned to South Carolina Thursday morning.

      (The Associated Press contributed to this report.)