As a community mourns the loss of a local soldier killed in action and they prepare for the funeral of Army Pfc. Nathan Tyler Davis, a controversial church is making plans of their own to protest the service.
Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church that they plan on picketing outside the funeral of Davis, 20, who was killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan on June 9, according to the Defense Department.
Since word of that protest broke, people from all over the Inland Empire have taken to the web to help organize counter-protests of their own to support the Davis family. They’ve started Facebook groups, and communicated via comments on Banning-Beaumont Patch—and
Until Thursday evening, the church had remained silent except for their initial, startling press release. But Banning-Beaumont Patch spoke with a representative Thursday night who explained why they plan on coming out to Yucaipa.
Ben Phelps, grandson of church founder Fred Phelps, told Patch his fellow congregation members were making their way from Kansas to California via a flight just for this event.
“Why Yucaipa? Well, small towns are what have produced quite a few of these military people,” Phelps said. “And we have a nation that has departed from God, and we have people who are willingly going to fight for that nation; going to give down their lives for the sins of this nation.”
Phelps said the travel costs were well worth it to his 70-member church, to get their message out that God is “punishing” soldiers like Davis.
“This is an important message as far as we’re concerned to get out: that there’s a sovereign God that’s ruling the affairs of this world, and people don’t just die randomly,” he said. “ And they certainly don’t die as young people just at random. This wasn’t just some random thing; like ‘oops, the guy’s dead.’ This was a direct judgment strike from our father.”
Though Phelps is not coming out to this particular event, he said on average the church will send out anywhere from three to 20 protestors. He did not know how many people would be at Friday’s funeral.
“You know while this young man is being buried tomorrow, you’re going to have people across this nation gearing up for their gay pride parades this weekend. That’s what he fought for; those are the rights that he fought for, for people to brazenly and openly sin before God’s face. So juxtapose those things together. You have a guy being laid in the ground at his untimely death at the hand of an angry God, and you have the perverted people, this wicked generation, that he died for. I mean if you have a cause, it ought to be a righteous cause, a cause for God, not a cause for a filthy nation.”
On the church flier for their protest, it’s stated that “Pfc. Davis gave his life for the Constitutional right of [Westboro Baptist Church] to warn America. To deny us our First Amendment rights is to declare to the world that Pfc. Davis died in vain, and that America is a nation of sodomite hypocrites.”
However, Phelps says that’s a tongue-in-cheek comment against those who counter-protest and try to stop the Westboro members.
“That’s what they say they die for,” Phelps said when asked about the freedoms soldiers fight for, including protecting the Constitution and the first amendment. “We’re kind of mocking you guys a little bit by putting that on our flier. You want to claim that he died for our rights, all the meanwhile, you’re doing everything you can to try to shut us up.”
Friday’s funeral is scheduled for 1 p.m. at Yucaipa Christian Church, 12954 Bryant St. The church announced they’ll be there at 10:15 a.m., and counter-protestors plan on arriving at 9:30 a.m.
Following the funeral service, there will be a burial service at Beaumont’s Sunnyslope Cemetery, 40 South Pennsylvania, just south of 1st Street, Patch confirmed.
City leaders from both Beaumont and Yucaipa along the processional route, and bring American flags to wave as the Davis family passes by.
Davis was assigned to the 1st Battalion (Airborne), 501st Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska.
He was born and raised in Yucaipa, and will be laid to rest next to his grandfather in Beaumont, according to Beaumont City Councilman David Castaldo.