The Westboro Baptist Church, notorious for picketing military funerals, will picket outside of East Lansing High School on Thursday.
The church selected the school as a picket location because of e-mails the church received from the students regarding its picketing of soldier’s funerals, said Shirley Phelps-Roper, a member of and attorney for the Westboro Baptist Church.
The picketers plan to go to the school at 2:50 p.m. Thursday with signs bearing the words “God hates fags” and “God hates you.” The picketers expect the event to be a peaceful and legal one.
“They wrote us e-mails and said, ‘You shouldn’t go to those, you shouldn’t do that,’” Phelps-Roper said. “And when they say those kind of things, they’re demonstrating that they don’t have a clue what we’re doing and why we’re doing that. We have to go over there and show them that these are the commandments of God.”
In an e-mail to students and parents of East Lansing High School, Principal Paula Steele said faculty and staff have met regarding the protest and have a plan in place to keep the school safe. She said in the e-mail the church will not be allowed on school property and officials will make sure the protest remains peaceful.
Phelps-Roper said she is not sure how many church members will be at the picket, but a good turnout for the group is about 25 people.
MSU alumnus Justin Lippi is one of several people planning to counter-protest.
“The one thing is to have a positive message, to say God loves people, our community is not full of hate,” Lippi said.
Lippi, who has organized protests in the past, said an important part of Thursday will be to keep tensions low.
“They’re known to antagonize people and that’s something we’re going to have to be wary about,” Lippi said. “We’ll have to have the resources there to help people deal with it.”
Social relations and policy senior Nick Pfost said the Alliance of Queer & Ally Students, of which Pfost is the chairman, also is planning a counter-protest. Pfost said he has contacted the Michigan Peace Team to be at the event to ensure it does not become violent.
In a statement released today, the Alliance of Queer & Ally Students said they “oppose (Westboro’s) presence at East Lansing High School,” and “intend to network with other students and other student organizations to form a peaceful counter-presence (and) to ensure the safety and security of parents and students.”
East Lansing police Sgt. Scott Wriggelsworth said the department has dealt with protests in the past. Wriggelsworth said he did not know whether the department will send officers to the protest.
“A lot of times, if we do have a large presence there, it makes things worse,” Wriggelsworth said.
Phelps-Roper said schools are teaching children God is a lie by advising acceptance of gay behavior. Yet East Lansing High School senior T.J. Brogan said although he does not agree gays should have the right to be married, he’s against pushing personal beliefs onto others.
“(Picketing is) the wrong way to approach it,” Brogan said. “It really says in the Bible that God hates sin, he doesn’t hate people. … They’re taking it the wrong way. I believe that a gay relationship is a sin, but I don’t think you should take it that far and go to that distance.”
Brogan said several East Lansing High School students are in same-sex relationships, and the school’s gay-straight alliance meets twice a week after school.
Councilmember Nathan Triplett does not believe the group will find support in the East Lansing community.
“Obviously these folks have a right to speak their mind,” Triplett said. “But the message they are promoting is completely antithetical to what the city of East Lansing stands for.”