Controversial Westboro church plans U of C protests

  • By Peter Sachs
  • Staff Writer
  • February 23, 2009 @ 12:30 PM

Members of the controversial Westboro Baptist Church are planning three protests in Hyde Park next month, raising the ire of some University of Chicago students.

The Topeka, Kan.-based church plans to protest at the university, as well as at the nearby Chicago Theological Seminary and the university’s law school, according to a schedule on its Web site.

The church has drawn sharp criticism nationwide for protesting at the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq and most recently for picketing at a memorial for people killed in a plane crash in Buffalo, N.Y.

Westboro’s members often picket with brightly colored slights bearing slogans like “God Hates Fags” and target groups that support gay rights. The church argues that disasters like plane crashes and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks are God’s punishment for a nation living in sin.

The group is targeting several so-called evils at its March 9 protests in Chicago. Among them, according to the church's Website: that Theodore Jennings, the founder of the Chicago Theological Seminary, believes Jesus was a homosexual.

And at the University of Chicago itself, the group will argue its contention that President Obama is the Antichrist and misinformed students when he taught at the law school.

U of C students, including freshman Anthony Pence, say they will mount a counterprotest. Pence says he wanted to demonstrate aganst Westboro Baptist Church ever since he saw them at a military funeral in Cincinnati several years ago.

Pence says he was surprised when he saw why the group was coming to Chicago.

“I just laughed. What else can you do?” Pence says. “I mean, these people aren’t thinking clearly. I don’t know how to react when a person says stuff like that. It’s completely irrational.”

After a meeting tonight, Pence hopes to have more concrete plans about the counterprotest. So far, a group on the topic has garnered 600 members and he’s received e-mails from students at Northwestern University and DePaul University who plan to bring groups down to Hyde Park to join the counter-protest.

“We’ve received a wide range of support on campus from college Republicans, college Democrats, to the gay and lesbian community on campus,” Pence says.

Protesting against the church is important, Dan Hartsough, a freshman, says, because while the views of its members are extreme, many people in America share some of those beliefs.

“The very idea that their ideas are somehow disconnected from society ... is very false,” Hartsough says. “They are definitely more extreme from a lot of other groups but in many ways that’s just because they don’t have a filter.”

A spokeswoman for the church was traveling this morning and could not be reached for comment.

Daily News Staff Writer Peter Sachs covers higher education. He can be reached at 773.362.5002, ext. 18