What Will Norway Make of the Westboro Baptist Church?

America's least charming activists are planning to protest the massacre victims' funerals

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The ever-infuriating Westboro Baptist Church, which made its reputation picketing the funerals of soldiers while holding signs saying "god hates fags" and "thank god for dead soldiers," says it is heading to Norway to lend its presence to the funerals of those killed in the July 22 massacre. The group posted a press release to its web site announcing its plans to picket the funerals of those who lost their lives when Anders Breivik set off a bomb in Oslo that killed eight and then traveled to the island of Utoya to execute 69 at a youth camp. The Topeka-based church, run by former civil rights activist Fred Phelps, sees homosexuality as a deadly sin and has vocally interpreted slain soldiers as a message from god that the United States is "a sodomite nation of flag-worshiping idolaters." The Norway venture seems to be in the same vein:

But unlike in the United States, where the Supreme Court has upheld the church's right to picket funerals and protest synagogues, Norway has laws banning hate speech. Its penal code reads, in part:

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. An expression that is uttered in such a way that it is likely to reach a large number of persons shall be deemed equivalent to a publicly uttered expression, cf. section 7, No. 2. 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.

If Westboro is going to protest, its members had better get their lawyers ready. Holding a sign outside a funeral would certainly constitute public speech. In a story about the church's plan, the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK) got a quote from Oslo Police chief of staff John Fuller. " If they implement what they threaten, I can only confirm that it is one of the most bad ideas at the moment," Fuller said, adding that he "hoped they restrained themselves." But one Norwegian posting in an English-language message board said he doubted the church would even be granted access to enter the country, and if they did make it to a funeral, "they'll be surrounded by some tens of thousand people telling them how completely insane they are."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.