People gather Friday on East Shore Road to protest a...

People gather Friday on East Shore Road to protest a demonstration by members of the Westboro Baptist Church, of Topeka, Kan. against the Chabad of Great Neck. (Sept. 25, 2009) Credit: William Perlman

An extremist, anti-gay group will be able to protest Friday at the funeral of a Shelter Island soldier, despite efforts of Suffolk officials to enact a law that would block such demonstrations.

The Westboro Baptist Church, based in Topeka, Kan., said it would preach "in respectful, lawful proximity" to the funeral for 1st Lt. Joseph J. Theinert Friday in Shelter Island because "military funerals have become pagan orgies" where they "play 'Taps' for a fallen fool."

Suffolk officials had hoped to prohibit such demonstrations by passing a law Tuesday that would make it a crime to picket funerals. The legislation bars protests from one hour before until one hour after a funeral.

But Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy must have a public hearing before the new law can be recorded with the state Secretary of State, said Levy spokesman Dan Aug.

The process usually takes about two weeks to complete, according to Levy's office and the bill's prime sponsor, Legis. Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills). No public hearing has been scheduled yet.

Levy met with Shelter Island police Thursday to make sure there would be no incidents at Friday's service.

"We're taking all precautions possible," Aug said.

Although officials said they worked hard to fast-track the legislation, Stern said, "unfortunately, if they do show up today, it will show how important this legislation is."

With Gary Dymski

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