The Westboro Baptist Church may be in for a surprise if the controversial Christian fringe group actually makes good on a threat to picket the funerals of those killed in the July 22 massacre in Norway.
The Kansas-based church, notorious for picketing solders' funerals and preaching that "God hates fags," issued a press release July 31 saying its members were heading to Norway to let the public know that the Nordic nation was being punished by God.
The church, founded in 1955 by Fred Phelps, claims the deaths of the 77 men, women, and children allegedly killed by 32-year-old Anders Breivik occurred because Norway allows homosexuals to marry.
Its statement reads:
"Did you think God would wink at that in-your-face sin forever? No! He sent the killer to slaughter 75+ of your children and citizens. It doesn’t matter what stripes Anders Breivik has or what you do to him now; God formed him and appointed him to punish Norway."
If Westboro church members actually fly to Utoya or Oslo, where the deaths occurred, they might instead find that they are the ones in danger of punishment.
Norway has strict codes against "hate speech," which would appear to cover the type of slogans Westboro Baptist Church members chant while holding "God hates" signs during their protests.
Norway's General Civil Penal Code, as found on the United Nations' website, comments in Section 135 a. on "hateful expression" related to religion and sexuality:
"Section 135 a. Any person who willfully or through gross negligence publicly utters a discriminatory or hateful expression shall be liable to fines or imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years. ... The use of symbols shall also be deemed to be an expression. Any person who aids and abets such an offense shall be liable to the same penalty."
The law further explains:
"A discriminatory or hateful expression here means threatening or insulting anyone, or inciting hatred or persecution of or contempt for anyone because of his or her: a) skin color or national or ethnic origin, b) religion or life stance, or c) homosexuality, lifestyle or orientation."
Westboro Baptist Church members are often identified not only by their verbal attacks against homosexuals and those of other faiths, including Christians; they usually display large, colorful placards declaring how much "God hates" the target of their protests.
Based on Norway's penal code, Westboro members might have a very difficult time practicing what is otherwise legally allowed under the Constitution here in the United States--publicly damning those whom they see as objects of God's wrath.
However, the group is not worried about the threat of imprisonment or fines.
"We are not concerned about their hate speech laws - the fact that someone can't read out of the Bible in a public place, for fear of being imprisoned, is precisely (sic) why they need this preaching more than they need air to breathe or water to drink," Steve Drain, media representative for Westboro, told The Christian Post Friday. "Norway is a doomed nation - as is America."
According to a report from the Norwegian Broadcasting Company (NRK), police officers in Norway intend to enforce laws prohibiting "hateful expressions" if Westboro members picket any funerals.
"If they implement what they threaten, I can only confirm that it is one of the most bad ideas at the moment," John Fuller, police chief of staff in Oslo, told the broadcasting company Tuesday.
When asked if Westboro had actually made concrete arrangements to fly to Norway, Drain insisted that his group was "still making plans."
"We have no members in Norway, but perhaps the Lord will call one of His little sheep out of that absolutely corrupt mass of humanity," Drain said, addressing Westboro's lack of supporters in Norway.
Whether Westboro will attempt to try the Norwegian government remains to be seen. In the meantime, the group is busy making its way to Houston for Gov. Rick Perry's prayer and fasting event on Saturday.
As expected, Westboro will not be lending support to the governor's event, but instead intends to protest "that God-forsaken prayer breakfast," as Drain put it.
As for Norway, grieving families have already started burying their dead, and funerals are expected to go on for weeks.
Although he confessed to the crimes, Breivik pleaded not guilty to killing 69 people at youth camp on Utoya Island and eight others with a car bomb in Oslo.