Britain bars entry to anti-gay U.S. preacher

Thu Feb 19, 2009 10:31am EST
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By Michael Holden

LONDON (Reuters) - An anti-gay U.S. Christian preacher and his daughter have been barred from entering Britain as they could spread "extremism and hatred," the British government said Thursday.

The Reverend Fred Phelps, founder of the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas, had been due in Britain to protest at a play about the murder of a gay man.

But British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said she had decided to prevent Phelps and his daughter Shirley Phelps-Roper from entering the country.

"Both these individuals have engaged in unacceptable behavior by inciting hatred against a number of communities," a Home Office spokeswoman said.

"We will continue to stop those who want to spread extremism, hatred and violent messages in our communities from coming to our country."

Phelps believes the United States is doomed for tolerating homosexuals, that military deaths in conflicts such as Iraq are god's punishment and organizes regular protests at events around the country. His church achieved notoriety for picketing the funerals of U.S. servicemen.

On its web site, the church said it planned to picket a performance of "The Laramie Project" Friday at Queen Mary's College in Basingstoke, southwest of London.

The play recounts the death of gay university student Matthew Shepard who was killed in Laramie, Wyoming, in October 1998. Phelps and members of his church, mainly made up of his extended family, staged a protest at Shepard's funeral.

"God hates the Queen Mary's College, and the fag-infested UK, England, and all having to do with spreading sodomite lies via The Laramie Project, this tacky bit of cheap fag propaganda masquerading as legitimate theater," the church's web site said.

British campaigner Peter Tatchell, founder of gay rights group Outrage!, said Phelps and his family should not be banned. "With their extremist views, they discredit themselves and also bring great shame to the Christian religion," he said.