Courtesy of WESTBORO BAPTIST CHURCH
AU students are mobilizing to counter-protest the upcoming Jan. 14 visit from a church known for protesting soldiers’ funerals.
The Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., will protest the “fag-infested, pervert-run” school between 4 and 4:45 p.m on Friday.
Counter-demonstrations include a “Rally to Reaffirm Sanity” near the Kogod School of Business and blackout poetry signs across campus.
“If one of us is discriminated against, then all of us are discriminated against,” said Student Government President Nate Bronstein.
The group also plans to protest at the Islamic Center on Massachusetts Avenue and diplomat Richard Holbrooke’s memorial service at the Kennedy Center earlier in the day.
“American University, like all the other universities in this country now, are teaching Rebellion Against God 101, 201 … you’ve got advanced degrees,” said Shirley Phelps-Roper, a member and attorney of WBC.
Phelps-Roper also said universities are not educating students properly.
“You children have been taught that God is a liar, that if you’re not fornicating your day away, you’re just a freak,” she said. “These people have taught you that it’s OK to be gay.”
The group was already planning to attend Holbrooke’s memorial, and decided to add the Islamic Center and AU to their trip.
“We were looking for the next opportunity to picket American University,” she said, adding that the group wanted to wait until school was back in session. “It was a perfect triple-run.”
About seven members will be at the 45-minute protest.
There are no specific “fags” and “perverts” the group is referring to in its press release, Phelps-Roper said, but rather the student body and administration as a whole.
The group will be protesting near the northwest corner of Massachusetts Avenue, on the side of the President’s Office Building, near Glover Gate.
AU officials said the group would not be allowed on the campus, which is private property.
Students will be allowed to counter-demonstrate on University property, and are asked to convene on the grassy hill behind the Kogod School of Business and the Kay Spiritual Life Center.
Public Safety has been working with the Metropolitan Police Department’s Special Operations Force to ensure a safe and non-confrontational event, according to Camille Lepre, a University spokeswoman.
AU’s United Methodist Chaplain Rev. Mark Schaefer said while he “hates” the activities of the Westboro Baptist Church on the AU United Methodist blog, he believes responding with love will “win out.”
“God, how I hate the way they portray my faith,” he wrote. “How I rage against their narrow-mindedness, Atheir intolerance, their limited vision. How they embarrass me and blaspheme the church.”
A Phelps-a-Thon page has been created to raise money for Queers and Allies.
Phelps-a-Thon is a national website that turns the Westboro Baptist Church protests into opportunities to fundraise for targeted groups.
People can donate a flat rate or pledge money for every minute the group protests AU.
AU President Neil Kerwin said AU does not support the Westboro Baptist Church’s protest.
“We condemn the intolerant positions and uncivil actions of this group, even as we respect their freedom of expression,” Kerwin said in a Facebook statement. “The AU community strongly values diversity, inclusiveness, civility and tolerance. We will work with students and others to communicate those values in a powerful and civil manner that does not provide this small group of individuals with the confrontation they seek.”
Students are already planning counter-demonstrations, both vocal and silent ones.
Jonathan Lipton, a freshman in the School of Public Affairs, is organizing the “Rally to Reaffirm Sanity.”
“This is quite insulting that they’re coming here,” he said. “We are a university that does not support hatred.”
Lipton wants to keep this counter-demonstration peaceful and non-violent.
“This is a rally to demonstrate our love and to demonstrate that we don’t embrace hate. It doesn’t make sense to protest hate with violence and hatred,” he said.
Student a capella group On a Sensual Note will perform at the counter-demonstration, according to Student Government President Nate Bronstein.
Students are asked not approach or interact with Westboro Baptist Church members, Bronstein said.
“That’s just going to play right into what they want,” he said. “We’re not going to stoop to their level.”
Tara Culp-Ressler, a senior in the School of Communication and an Eagle columnist, made a Facebook group called “God Loves Poetry: transforming hatred into positivity.”
This is based off a national movement that takes the group’s press releases and makes them into blackout poetry.
“I think that American University has a really great center of activism and a lot of passionate people here, but sometimes I worry it’s focused in the wrong way,” Culp-Ressler said.
Trying to be louder than the original protesters isn’t the best way to show them that AU is a campus of love, she said.
Lepre believes the counter-demonstrations will have a far-reaching effect.
“This response has the potential to be a powerful community expression of AU’s values,” she said.