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Protest Banned at Gay Man’s Funeral

October 16, 1998

CASPER, Wyo. (AP) _ The Casper City Council banned protesters from today’s funeral of a slain University of Wyoming student, hoping to prevent a spectacle at an event that an anti-gay church vowed to picket.

During an emergency meeting late Thursday, the council voted unanimously to forbid protests before, during and immediately after the funeral.

Matthew Shepard, 21, died Monday at a Colorado hospital, five days after being found pistol-whipped and tied to a fence in near-freezing temperatures outside Laramie. Two 21-year-old men have been charged with murder.

Police said robbery was the primary motive but that Shepard also was singled out because he was gay.

The killing has drawn nationwide attention, including President Clinton’s call for Congress to pass legislation making it easier for federal prosecution of hate crimes.

Wyoming officials were bracing for the arrival of members of a Topeka, Kan., church that regularly engages in anti-homosexual picketing; they had planned to demonstrate at Shepard’s funeral.

Gov. Jim Geringer has said officials cannot stop the group from Westboro Baptist from coming to Casper, but said their presence wasn’t wanted.

Police are using bomb-sniffing dogs to make sure the church where services will be held is safe, Mayor Ed Opella said.

Councilman Paul Bertoglio said the council wants to keep the peace among protesters and take the pressure off Shepard’s family and relatives.

``We’ve never faced this before,″ he said. ``One of the things we’re trying to do, besides protecting those who want to protest on both sides, is protecting family and relatives to allow them to breathe in peace.″

The ordinance bans people from picketing on sidewalks, streets and other areas next to the memorial service. It prohibits protesting on public property within 50 feet of the service.

``It’s sad that we have to do this _ that the sanctity of a funeral is not upheld,″ Councilman Tim Monroe said.

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