Joplin Tornado Memorial Draws Obama, Unwelcomed Westboro Picketers

Tornado-ravaged Joplin, Mo., will hold a community memorial service Sunday that will attract President Obama as well as unwelcomed guests from Westboro Baptist Church.

Joplin Police Chief Lane Roberts said Friday at a news conference that officers are "ready" for the controversial church known for protesting at funerals of military officers. The police chief said Westboro members have the right to protest and will be given a designated area to demonstrate.

According to Westboro's website, its members are scheduled to hold a peaceful protest at noon on Sunday.

"WBC will picket Anti-Christ Obama who is speaking at the memorial service for the 126 God killed in his wrath with the whirlwind," reads the message on Westboro's website. "They all died for the sins of Missourians who have repeatedly lifted up their violent hands against God's anointed, despite plain warning not to do so."

Westboro Baptist Church, which has no affiliation with any Baptist denomination, is a fringe church notorious for hate speech and protest at funerals of troops killed in combat. Members of the church believe that U.S. deaths in the Iraq war, for instance, are punishment for the nation's tolerance of homosexuality.

The church, made up of family members of leader Fred Phelps, is condemned by mainstream Christian leaders as a cult and for teaching unorthodox views on predestination and God's wrath.

A counter-protest is also scheduled for tomorrow. By Saturday night, more than 15,500 people have liked the Facebook page for the Westboro counter-protest.

As of Saturday, the latest death toll for the Joplin tornado stands at 142, with another 100 people still missing. The southwestern Missouri city of 50,000 residents was struck by an EF-5 tornado on May 22, which pulverized the city and left it completely in ruins. The Joplin tornado is one of the deadliest in U.S. history.

Some have described the devastation as if the city was bombed.

President Obama is scheduled to participate in the Community Memorial Service Sunday, a day after returning from his six-day European trip. He is scheduled to meet those affected by the tornado and local officers.

The Community Memorial Service will begin at 2 p.m. on Sunday inside the Taylor Performing Arts Center on the campus of Missouri Southern State University. The event is open to the public and no tickets are required for admittance to the venue that opens at 11:30 a.m.

While in England, Obama had said that he will travel to Missouri and "give them (survivors) whatever assurance and comfort I can that the entire country is going to be behind them."

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