Searsport District High School senior Zach Parker may have got more than he bargained for when he decided he didn’t want the topic of his government class project to be boring.
More precisely, Parker knew he didn’t want to tackle what he saw as overdone themes — he gave “poverty” and “welfare” as two examples — so he hit the Internet looking for an offbeat topic and came upon some headlines about the Westboro Baptist Church, a rabidly anti-gay, anti-Semitic, anti-government church in Topeka, Kan. that has made a name for itself by picketing thousands of events around the country every year.
The group sounded familiar, and as Parker did more searching, he found that WBC had protested at military funerals. He thought of his own uncle in the National Guard, who he said could be deployed overseas next year, and the thought of him being killed in combat was hard to reconcile. The idea of people protesting the funeral was unthinkable.
Part of Parker’s school assignment was to get the word out. He had always wanted to write a bill, but Maine already had a law on the books addressing protests at military funerals, so he took his argument to the federal government, pitching the bill to Sen. Susan Collins and Rep. Michael Michaud, both of whom, Parker said, have expressed interest.
His goal, Parker said, is to “put a barricade” between protesters and military funerals.
To introduce his proposal, he organized a public seminar. Not long after, he received a vitriolic e-mail from WBC principal Shirley Phelps-Roper and subsequently learned that WBC planned to picket his event.