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Profile: Russell Pearce
Russell Pearce was a participant or observer in the following events:
The Arizona legislature unanimously passes legislation designed to keep protesters from the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC—see November 27, 1955 and After) from demonstrating at the funeral of a nine-year-old girl murdered during an assassination attempt on Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ). Governor Jan Brewer signs it into law almost immediately thereafter. Brewer says the law “will assure that the victims of Saturday’s tragic shooting in Tucson will be laid to rest in peace with the full dignity and respect that they deserve,” and praises lawmakers for what she calls “a remarkable spirit of unity and togetherness.” The bill, which does not mention the Tucson shooting of Giffords and others, prohibits protests at or near funeral sites. The bill is proposed and passed within 90 minutes. Christina Taylor Green will be laid to rest on January 13; she is one of six people killed in the shooting. Giffords and 13 others were wounded, some, like Giffords, gravely. The WBC said it plans to protest the funeral because “God sent the shooter to deal with idolatrous America.” State Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) says: “This is just horrific that people have to deal with this. We shouldn’t have to do this in time of great pain for our state.” Arizona’s law is modeled on a similar law passed by Ohio and upheld in a federal court of appeals. The Arizona law makes it a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail to picket or conduct other protest activities within 300 feet of a funeral or burial service from one hour before the event to one hour after. WBC official Shirley Phelps-Roper says the church will go ahead with the protest, but at a location some 1,000 feet from the funeral. She says the church will also picket at the funeral of US District Judge John M. Roll, another victim of the shooting. State Senator Paula Aboud (D-AZ) says volunteers are organizing a “human shield” to block protesters from the view of family members. Senate President Russell Pearce (R-AZ) says the bill “is a good compromise that doesn’t trample our God-given rights.” [Associated Press, 1/11/2011] The next day, the WBC announces that its plans to protest the funerals are canceled. Church officials say the protests are canceled in return for an interview on a nationally syndicated radio talk show hosted by Mike Gallagher, a deal similar to one the church made in 2006 (see October 2-3, 2006), and other interviews on regional radio shows. Phelps-Roper says the interviews will give more publicity to the church than the protests would: “It’s always a question of where can you put the words in the most ears.” Gallagher says of his offer: “Believe me, I’m doing this show with a heavy heart. I don’t like the idea of giving them the satisfaction of this, but I believe my radio airwaves are less important than them hurting families.” [Topeka Capital-Journal, 1/12/2011]
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