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Westboro Baptist not traveling to Tucson for funeral protests

Members of the Westboro Baptist Church will not be coming to Tucson to protest at the funerals of those killed in the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, police said.

Tucson Police Department investigators confirmed Wedneday that the group, noted for its slogan, "God hates fags," is not coming, spokeswoman Diana Lopez said Thursday night.

Some members of the church did have plane tickets to travel to Tucson on Thursday, but Tucson police "worked closely with Tucson International Airport authorities today to confirm they did not arrive in Tucson via those previously purchased flights," she said.

The tickets went unused Thursday, she said.

The state legislature, acting with unprecedented speed, passed a law Tuesday prohibiting protests near funerals.

"We need to protect our grieving families from having to go through the pain of being exposed to protesters," said Steve Farley, D-28, the House minority leader.

Westboro Baptist

Hate missionary Fred Phelps and his Topeka, Kan., followers issued a statement Sunday that said they "thank god for" alleged shooter Jared Lee Loughner and planned to picket the funerals of those killed in the attack.

"Thank god for the violent shooter, one of your soldier heroes in Tucson," Phelps said in a video posted on Youtube.

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"However many our dead, Westboro Baptist Church will picket their funerals," Phelps said.

The church is known for picketing military funerals with signs saying "God hates fags" to draw attention to its view that the deaths are divine punishment for the nation's tolerance of homosexuals.

The group issued a second press release Sunday with an attack on the youngest victim, 9-year-old Christina Taylor Greene.

It references Greene's birthdate, Sept. 11, 2001, and the 9/11 terrorist attacks, saying "God mercifully gave this nation a fair warning on 9/11 - but you despise His mercies, so you get no more mercy - man, woman or child. That how God the Avenger rolls!"

In 2006, President George W. Bush signed into law the Respect for America's Fallen Heroes Act, prohibiting protests within 300 feet of the entrance of any cemetery under control of the National Cemetery Administration.

Also in 2006, the family of slain Marine Lance Corporal Matthew A. Snyder sued the Westboro Baptist Church and Phelps for defamation, invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress after the group had picked Snyder's funeral.

While a federal jury found Phelps and the WBC liable for invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress and awarded the Snyders a total of $10.9 million, the award was later reduced, and the verdict itself later overturned by a federal appeals court.

In March 2010 the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, and arguments were presented in October. A ruling is pending.

Roberto De Vido contributed to this report.

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Renee Bracamonte-Stewart/TucsonSentinel.com

Hundreds lined the roads near the funeral of Christina Taylor Green, including people dressed as angels to shield the grieving family from a threatened appearance by the Westboro Baptist Church.