Patriot Guard Riders arrive before the start of the funeral...

Patriot Guard Riders arrive before the start of the funeral for 1st Lt. Joseph Theinert on Shelter Island. (June 11, 2010) Credit: Ed Betz

The protest never materialized - or did it?

Shelter Island police, the veterans biker group Patriot Guard Riders, mourners and the media all braced for protests by the fringe religious group, the Westboro Baptist Church, at the funeral of 1st Lt. Joseph Theinert on Shelter Island Friday.

But the protesters were nowhere in sight, and the funeral went off without a hitch.

After the service, members of the Topeka, Kan., church, which protests military funerals because it believes soldier war deaths are God's punishment for homosexuality, in telephone interviews maintained they had protested the funeral - though from a distance.

One church leader in Topeka said three members protested three-quarters of a mile away from the service, on Shelter Island.

But the person who the leader said led the protest, Margie Phelps, said the group never reached Shelter Island. Instead, she said, they protested for an hour in Greenport, at the North Ferry terminal.

Southold police, which patrols the village, said they received no reports about any protest in Greenport.

On Shelter Island, patrol division officer Walter Richards said no protests marred the funeral.

Suffolk officials had hoped to prohibit such demonstrations by passing legislation 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 and eventually go into effect, 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.

With Thomas Maier

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