MOORE — Westboro Baptist Church, infamous for picketing the funerals of AIDS patients and Iraq War veterans, says it will stage a protest at a liquor store in Moore that is celebrating the death of the church’s former pastor, Fred Phelps, with a sign proclaiming a sale on Champagne.
Moore Liquor, at 914 SW 4, has gained a local reputation for its humorous, frequently off-color marquee signs. The shop marquee even has its own Facebook page: facebook.com/MooreLiquorMarquee and Twitter account: twitter.com/MooreLiquorMarq, where followers can see regular photos of the latest roadside witticisms.
“Fred Phelps, 1929-2014. Champagne 10% off! Not a coincidence,” is the latest storefront marquee message.
Shop owner Bryan Kerr said he put up the sign this week after Phelps died March 19. Phelps gained national fame after picketing the funeral of gay college student Matthew Shepard after he was murdered in 1998 in Laramie, Wyo.
“Fred Phelps is the kind of guy who is very difficult for reasonable people to like, and I knew I wanted to do something that had just a little bit of humor but wasn’t too disrespectful,” Kerr said.
Kerr tries to keep the liquor store marquee fresh with frequent references to pop culture and current events. “If you’re watching Dancing with the Stars sober, you are doing it wrong,” one recent message said.
“As you would expect, the response has been incredibly positive,” Kerr said of the Phelps Champagne sale marquee.
“There have certainly been some detractors, but 99 out of 100 responses have been supportive.”
After seeing a picture of the sign online, Kerr received a phone call from a woman in Virginia who wanted to purchase a case of Champagne from the store with a credit card and have it shipped to her.
Kerr couldn’t take the woman’s order because of Oklahoma’s restrictive liquor laws, but the woman wanted Moore Liquor to charge her credit card anyway, which Kerr declined to do.
The Phelps sign has attracted national attention after going viral on the Internet, but it also has given Champagne sales a slight bump this week, store employee Michael Bogan said.
“For the most part, everyone has been in agreement with it outside of one or two negative comments on our Facebook page,” Bogan said.
Topeka, Kan.-based Westboro Baptist Church announced Wednesday on Twitter that it would picket Moore Liquor on April 5 in response to the sign.
The protesters from Westboro will visit the liquor store in Moore on their way to protest a church in Fort Worth, Texas, on April 6, the church said on Twitter.
“Kisses to @MooreLiquor for reminding Oklahomans #godh8sfags! See ya April 5!,” Westboro wrote on its Twitter account in a subsequent message also sent to local media on Thursday. The church also tweeted a link to a photo of the Moore Liquor marquee, along with a picture of a Westboro picketer carrying an upside down American flag and holdings signs that say “WBC love fest” and “God H8s Mockers.”
Kerr said he is welcoming counter-protesters to the shop on April 5 to greet Westboro members if they show up. He’s already been brainstorming ideas for a new marquee sign to greet Westboro Baptist.
“We’ve thought up a cute message that will be specially for them,” he said.
Church pastor's reaction
Jonathan Phelps, one of Fred Phelps’ 13 children, said Westboro Baptist Church is now controlled by a group of eight pastors, including himself.
Jonathan Phelps said he was not offended by the Moore Liquor sign but that the church feels compelled to visit Moore and picket if there will be a large audience of counter protesters.
“We can’t disappoint them,” he said.
The Moore sign celebrating his father’s death with a Champagne sale is “pretty tame compared to what we’ve seen since we picked up our signs,” Jonathan Phelps said. “We’ve been treated in the most disgusting ways imaginable.”
Jonathan Phelps said he didn’t know an exact time the protesters would visit the store but said it probably would be between 10 and 11 a.m. April 5.