February 19, 2009 / 1:53 PM / 11 years ago

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

LONDON (Reuters) - An anti-gay fundamentalist U.S. Christian preacher and his daughter have been barred from entering the country because they could spread “extremism and hatred,” the government said on Thursday.

A general view shows the headquarters of the Home Office in central London, January 15, 2007. REUTERS/Stephen Hird

The Reverend Fred Phelps, the founder of the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas, which achieved notoriety for picketing the funerals of U.S. servicemen, had been expected to come to Britain to protest at a play about the murder of a gay man.

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

“Both these individuals have engaged in unacceptable behaviour 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 organises regular protests at events around the country.

On its Web site “www.godhatesfags.com,” the church said it planned to picket a performance of “The Laramie Project” on Friday at Queen Mary’s College in Basingstoke, southwest of London.

The play recounts the death of gay university student Matthew Shepard who was brutally killed in Laramie, Wyoming, in October 1998. Phelps and members of his church, mainly made up of his extended family, staged a protest at Shephard’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 theatre,” the church’s Web site said.

Campaigner Peter Tatchell, founder of gay rights group Outrage!, said Phelps and his family should not be banned as they did not actually incite violence. However, he said he suspected the planned demo was just a publicity stunt.

“With their extremist views, they discredit themselves and also bring great shame to the Christian religion,” he told Reuters.

The banning of Phelps comes a week after right-wing Dutch legislator Geert Wilders, who faces prosecution at home for making anti-Islam remarks, was refused entry to the country by Smith because he posed a threat to public security.

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