On Saturday, Oct. 17 members of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) from Topeka, Kansas exited their rental van and became a dark cloud of “equal opportunity haters” across the street from Chabad of University City in San Diego, CA.
Chabad is a large Hasidic movement known for hospitality, technological expertise, optimism and emphasis on religious study. Westboro Baptist Church is a small missionary group known for hate-filled protests, pessimism and emphasis on intolerance. Fred Phelps is the patriarch of WBC, and most of his congregants are related to him and his wife: several grown children and dozens of grandkids.
WBC has no affiliation with the mainstream Baptist organizations. Lucky mainstream Baptists!
Phelps’ and his congregation’s goals are to get publicity for its evil message. This small group shows up at funerals for the military, Jewish temples and buildings, Catholic churches and schools. The demonstrators carry expensive signs declaring “God hates Jews” and “Priests and rabbis rape children.” Besides those evil messages, the group drags the American flag through the streets.
The First Amendment allows even offensive people to protest on public lands. Several WBC activists are attorneys who know the difference between hate speech and criminal action, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
WBC became a not-for-profit group in 1967. In 2005 the Phelps clan started to show up at funerals for American soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, chanting cruel things about God punishing soldiers for defending a country supporting abominable lifestyles. “God’s hatred is one of His Holy Attributes” is another message. Oprah Winfrey is credited with saying: “You cannot hate other people without hating yourself.”
Fred Phelps’ daughter, who is married and a mother, brings her young children along. Children hold up signs that have shocking writing on them about Jews, Catholics and others. This family has participated in 40,000 protests since 1991 and in 600 cities. They have shown up in Iraq, Canada and Jordan but have been barred from Great Britain.
Morris Casuto is the regional director of the Anti-Defamation League in San Diego and a University City resident; he showed up at Chabad. Westboro Baptist Church’s hate group has been in the sights of the ADL for years. Casuto discouraged folks from showing up in counter-protest groups because it gives publicity to the WBC. However, he saw a quiet group of civil volunteers “watching the back” of Chabad.
Among those in the group at Chabad on Saturday morning were Lutheran Pastor Paul Bieber and his son. All Saints Lutheran Church backs up to the property of its neighbor, Chabad.
Three young Marines carried the Marine and American flags and shadowed the Westboro contingent across the street, where they stretched their flags across the demonstrators’ offensive signs. Nonstop hate talk spewed from one woman in the group, but the counter-demonstrators lining up in front of Chabad remained civil.
The police presence was impressive. Three squad cars were visible to WBC and the counter-protesters. Apparently, lawsuits against counter-demonstrators are a source of income for this group. The police were professional and persuasive. They warned the counter-protesters not to engage the WBC group in conversation.
“In every bad event a seed of goodness can be seen.” Those who countered the WBC contingent learned a lot, met people of different faiths, met people of different viewpoints with one goal: looking out for their neighbors who were being harassed unfairly. Perhaps it is time to talk to our children about hate and prejudice again.