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Anti-gay preachers banned from UK

Two American hate preachers have been banned from entering the UK where they planned to picket a play by a gay youth group, the Home Office said today.

Extremist Christian leaders Fred Phelps and daughter Shirley Phelps-Roper were to protest outside a performance of The Laramie Project, the story of an American man killed for being gay, being performed at a school arts centre in Basingstoke, Hampshire, tomorrow.

But Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has barred them and a UK Border Agency spokesman said: "The Home Secretary has excluded both Fred Phelps and his daughter Shirley Phelps-Roper from the UK.

"Both these individuals have engaged in unacceptable behaviour by inciting hatred against a number of communities.

"The Government has made it clear it opposes extremism in all its forms.

"We will continue to stop those who want to spread extremism, hatred and violent messages in our communities from coming to our country.

"That was the driving force behind the tighter rules on exclusion for unacceptable behaviour that the Home Secretary announced on October 28 last year.

"The exclusions policy is targeted at all those who seek to stir up tension and provoke others to violence regardless of their origins and beliefs."

Phelps, 79, and his daughter Shirley, 51, belong to the US Westboro Baptist Church based in Kansas which calls for homosexuals to be killed.

Its members, mostly Phelps's relatives, regularly picket US soldiers' funerals as the sect believes their deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan are punishment for America's tolerance of gays.

Their homophobic exploits were exposed in 2007 by TV documentary-maker Louis Theroux.

Other church members could also be stopped if they try to enter Britain, according to reports.

It follows the ban on Dutch MP Geert Wilders entering the UK last week for his extremist views on Islam.

Peter Tatchell, from gay rights group OutRage!, said: "The Phelps are odious, homophobic bigots. They give Christianity a bad name.

"Objectionable though they are, I don't agree with them being banned but since the Home Secretary banned the Dutch MP Geert Wilders at least she is being consistent by also banning these Christian preachers of hate.

"It makes it all the more odd that the Home Secretary has not banned Jamaican reggae singers who incite the murder of gay people.

"Why are they allowed in to the country but not the Phelps?

"Inciting murder is even worse than inciting hatred. Why the double standards?"