3 groups rally at LDS center

Three groups picketed the conference center of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Saturday morning.

The Westboro Baptist Church from Topeka, Kan., told conference attendees that the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were "the scourge of God" brought in retaliation for societal acceptance of homosexuality.

"God hates America," Pastor Fred Phelps said. "This country's wholly given over to the homosexual agenda."

Phelps and about 15 congregation members, including some of his family, protested Friday evening and Saturday in front of the Conference Center. They planned to protest at other area churches today, he said.

Westboro Baptist Church claims the LDS Church is too lenient on homosexuals, condemning the practice with words, not actions, Phelps said. "They say they are opposed, that homosexuality is a sin, but they don't act like it's a sin. We know what's going on."

The LDS Church maintains that "God loves all of his children," said Harold Brown, managing director for the church's welfare system. "I think we have a consistent doctrine, one of love and concern for people."

Countering Westboro Baptist Church's views was a smaller group of activists holding a rainbow flag, the symbol of diversity.

"We're here because of the intolerance, not the general assembly," Salt Lake resident Jane Szucs said. "We have no desire to disrupt that."

Most in that group had LDS backgrounds, Szucs said, and were interested only in a presence to balance the messages.

"As long as there's hate, we want to be here with peace," Misty River, Salt Lake, said.

Rounding out the crowd were a few local demonstrators who called themselves independent fundamentalists — former LDS Church members who held signs condemning abortion and calling it murder.

"It's better for a woman to die than to commit a murder," said Mike Bingham, a Bountiful resident. The LDS Church opposes abortion except in cases of rape, incest, endangerment to the mother or if the fetus is not viable, but Bingham thinks the church should impose a strict moratorium on abortions.

The LDS Church declined to comment on Bingham's statements.

Salt Lake police used safety lines to keep the groups separated, and there were no altercations Saturday morning. Officers were extra cautious after a slight problem Friday evening.

A man threw an egg at the Westboro Baptist Church group Friday about 6:30 p.m. at the corner of Main Street and North Temple. He was not affiliated with any of Saturday's groups and was arrested for assault and disorderly conduct, said Salt Lake police Sgt. Fred Louis.

Conferencegoers mainly ignored the protesters, and those who didn't may have been a little baffled like John Atkin, who was waiting for standby tickets to the Saturday afternoon session.

"They have signs that say they're protesting abortion or gays, as if we accept abortion," he said. "I'm just confused."

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