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It's not OK

Anti-gay protests by the Westboro Baptist Church anticipated this week are not welcome here.

Daily Record/Sunday News

 

Feb 9, 2007 — On Monday, the York County Council of Churches, the York County Community Against Racism and the York City Human Relations Commission sponsored a meeting titled "When Hate Groups Come To Town."

Unfortunately, it's not the first time our community has had to have such a meeting. We've had the displeasure of visits by white supremacists — large, noisy and incredibly offensive spectacles that were clearly intended to be large, noisy and incredibly offensive.

This time, the hate group comes under the guise of a church, the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., a cult-like organization headed by Fred Phelps, whose theological musings can be reduced to the hateful and noxious motto, "God Hates Fags."

Mr. Phelps and his flock, apparently composed mostly of his family, plan to visit our community this weekend to picket at York Suburban Senior High School's staging of "The Laramie Project," a play about the murder of a young gay man in Wyoming. They are also planning to tote their signs and chant their slogans at six large churches in the county on Sunday, using the Lord's day to preach a message of hate.

For many of us, the initial reaction to Mr. Phelps and his band of followers is sorrow. It's sad that these people are so consumed with hatred. It's sad that they cloak their hatred in Scripture. It's sad that they even exist, a sign of fringe elements in our society that seek to impose their twisted worldviews upon the rest of us.

They are pathetic creatures, and they deserve our pity. Their world is one full of hate and bitterness. That's an awfully cold world, and we're not talking just about the temperature.

It would be easy to just ignore them and hope they go away. That's not a good way to combat this kind of ugliness. As Ann Van Dyke of the state Human Relations Commission told those assembled at Monday's meeting, "Silence is a welcome mat for hate."

Silence, she said, tells those who spew bile into our public discourse, "This is OK with us."

Well, Mr. Phelps' visit, and his message, is not OK with us.

The best way to counter these people is to take a stand, to communicate to them that they are not welcome here and that they should go back to their burrow in Kansas. The question is, how do you do that without provoking these people and causing a spectacle?

Ms. Van Dyke had a suggestion: Churches in other communities faced with pickets from these people had a counter protest, holding up signs proclaiming "God is Love" and singing "Jesus Loves Me." At the military funerals this group has picketed — that's the depth of their depravity, picketing funerals of men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country — The Patriot Guard, a veterans' motorcycle group, formed a human and motorcycle shield between the protesters and mourners.

Based on our community's past experiences with the neo-Nazis and the equally odious anti-skinhead anarchists, sometimes counter-protests can backfire and become a spectacle in themselves.

Perhaps a simpler option is called for.

The local churches subjected to pickets can counter with signs, again, proclaiming God's love and sermons reinforcing the teachings of Jesus to love all of our brothers and sisters.

One thing you don't want to do is try to debate these people.

Alanna Berger, a member of Silent Witness of Central Pennsylvania and a veteran of several Westboro protests, said interacting with the protesters is pointless. "You can't argue with someone that is impervious to logic," she said.

So there you have it. Let's show these people that they are not welcome here, and their message is falling upon deaf ears.

And if we show that well enough, maybe we won't have to have any more meetings like Monday's any time soon.