A former member of the Westboro Baptist Church--a fringe group based in Topeka, Kansas that pickets soldiers' funerals--apologized to the mother of a 21-year-old soldier killed in Afghanistan on a talk show Wednesday.
Libby Phelps Alvarez, the former Westboro member, apologized to Sherry and Randy Wyatt for picketing the funerals of fallen soldiers like their son on Anderson Live Wednesday. Alvarez is the granddaughter of Fred Phelps, the group's founder, and has recently left the group. (Other members of the shrinking group have recently publicly defected as well.)
"I just feel sad...and, I'm sorry," Alvarez said. "I thought I was doing the right thing...but I was just hurting people."
Westboro protesters set up picket lines outside funerals, holding signs that say soldiers are killed in action as a punishment for the existence of homosexuality. The Supreme Court ruled in 2011 that the Westboro group has a First Amendment right to protest at the funerals.
"Our son died to ensure freedom of assembly, to ensure freedom of speech, to ensure freedoms for those that are white, black, gay, straight, rich, poor," Sherry Wyatt said to Alvarez.
Wyatt thanked her local community for showing up at her son's July 21 funeral in Columbia, Missouri to form a wall of support between her family and any protesters. Wyatt's son, Sterling Wyatt, died July 11 in Kandahar province from an improvised explosive device while on patrol, according to the Columbia Daily Tribune.
"We had thousands stand shoulder to shoulder in 105 degree heat," she said. "We had businesses bringing in water, we had our American Legion Auxiliary cooking hot dogs, we had people setting up health stations because of the heat. That's community, that is church."
People do not believe they are wrong when they "exercise" their right but had that right been restricted, this cleansing change of heart might never have happened.