Updated at 9:00 p.m. Sept 11 to clarify ongoing legal action involving the Eagle Forum. Hundreds of mourners packed the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis Saturday afternoon to honor a woman known for her conservative activism and polarizing views.
Schlafly died Labor Day at 92. The views she pushed as the founder of the Eagle Forum were underpinned by her deep Catholic faith.
"I don't know of any lay person who has had the positive influence in the public square over such a large number of Americans on the issues of life on the issues of human sexuality and family, that Phyllis has had," said the Most Rev. Robert Hermann, auxiliary bishop emeritus of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. "We owe her our prayers, we owe her our gratitude."
The Rev. Brian Harrison, the pastor at St. Mary of Victories, likened Schlafly to French King Louis IX, for whom the city of St. Louis is named.
“Louis became a saint precisely in the theater of public life, the rude and harsh conflicts of a patriotic life dedicated to love of God and love of country,” Harrison said. “Now doesn’t that sound quite a lot like Phyllis Schlafly?”
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump used a brief address before the funeral Mass to paint himself as the heir to the values of the Eagle Forum, which Schlafly founded in 1972.
"In all of her battles, she never strayed from the one guiding principle. She was for America, and it was always, always America First," Trump said. "She never stopped fighting for the fundamental idea that the American people ought to have their needs come before anything or anyone else."
Schlafly’s endorsement of Trump in the Republican primary caused a split within the Eagle Forum. The battle between Trump supporters and those who favored Texas Sen. Ted Cruz led to an ongoing legal dispute between Eagle Forum President Ed Martin and some members of the forum's board, including Schlafly's daughter Anne Cori, who sued to have Martin removed from his role.
Controversial in life and death
Even on the day of her funeral, Schlafly stirred political conversations.
A few dozen passersby huddled across the street from the closed doors of the Cathedral to survey the high-security commotion. Many tried to catch a glimpse of Trump, who departed after making his remarks.
Robert Morgan, a retiree out for a walk with his dog, stopped by hoping to see Trump and any other politicians in attendance. Outfitted with “Trump/Pence” and “Blue Lives Matter” buttons, Morgan said he had always liked Schlafly and was sad to hear of her passing.
“I like what she stands for. Her whole life’s been dedicated to what she believes and I think that’s a real tribute to anyone,” Morgan said. “Plus, she lived in Alton, on the bluffs, beautiful place.” (She moved to Ladue after her husband, Fred, died.)
Erin Barry, a Ph.D. student at Washington University, walked the couple of blocks from her apartment to gather with other spectators. Barry wore a hat with Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton's name on it in what what she called a small and silent protest against Trump’s appearance in St. Louis.
“I try not to speak ill of the dead, but I would say that she was a woman who had no real interest in helping other women,” Barry said of Schlafly.
As family members left the Cathedral after the service, two protesters with neon signs stood on the corner waiting for the funeral procession.
“We know all these people are gathered to lift up Phyllis Schlafly’s legacy, but we want to make sure her entire legacy is being put on the record,” said Keith Rose, one of the protesters. “Her history as a racist, as a misogynist, her homophobic actions — we want to make sure people remember all of what Phyllis Schlafly stood for, not just what she did for the right-wing movement, but what she did to tear down marginalized communities in America."
Rose ignored expressions of disgust from other spectators, saying protesters had to come out where they could guarantee they would be heard.
“It’s her funeral, yes. It should be a time for her family. We didn’t go to the small actual service; we came to the big one where they invited Donald Trump,” he said. “They made it an extremely politicized event when they invited him.”
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