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Witnesses create buffer zone

The group hopes to provide a barrier between protesters and counterprotesters.

For the Daily Record/Sunday News

Article Last Updated: 01/19/2008 02:35:43 AM EST

Jan 19, 2008 — As moviegoers walked last Sunday to the Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center in York to see "For the Bible Tells Me So," a documentary about homosexuality, they were greeted with signs and shouts of protest by the Rev. Jim Grove and a group of 8 to 10 protesters.

One sign read, "Lesbians hate men."

Grove said protesting is a great way to spread his message of damnation for living a gay lifestyle because "everyone in earshot" hears his words.

But there was also a shield protecting the Strand patrons from Grove's group. Ten members of the Silent Witnesses of Central PA held rainbow umbrellas to form a buffer between Grove and the theater entrance.

"It's a typical reaction from the sodomite community," Grove said of the Silent Witnesses' actions.

According to Alanna Berger, executive director of Silent Witnesses of Central PA, the group is a gay and straight alliance that aims to provide a non-confrontational barrier between protesters and counterprotesters.

"I can't stand idly by and watch people be discriminated against because of who they are," Berger said.

When Silent Witnesses show up at events, event attendees usually don't notice the protesters because the umbrellas block them from sight, Berger said.

Berger said she encourages members of the group to stand silent and ignore the shouts from people on both sides of the debate.

But, if a member wants to engage a protester in conversation, she said they may do so in a civilized manner and under the watchful eye of fellow Silent Witnesses.

"If it turns to a heated confrontation, we ask that they both just step away," Berger said.

Though she doesn't agree with the views of the anti-gay protesters, Berger said, she respects that they have the right to voice their opinions under the first amendment.

Berger recalled a local instance when the group was called upon to protect a group of protesters from the shouts of counterprotesters.

After Fred Phelps and members of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, finished protesting the "Laramie Project" play at York Suburban High School, Berger said, police asked the group to form a wall separating the Westboro members and the counterprotesters.

"We don't want anybody to get arrested, and we don't want anybody to get hurt," Berger said.