First Amendment rights were on full display in downtown Chicago March 8. On one side of upper Wacker Drive protesters held signs and shouted "God hates fags!," "God hates Jews!" and "God hates Obama!" On the other side of the street, counterdemonstrators waved their own signs and shouted, "God hates the new Facebook!," "God hates when you don't call!" and "I was promised GaGa tickets!"
The showdown was between members of Westboro Baptist Church ( WBC ) and members of Equality Across America ( EAA ) .
Westboro congregants were in town to protest the Democratic National Committee and the Israel Consulate., Afterwards, they headed up the street to the Hyatt Regency to protest the 2010 Annual Humanitarian Awards Dinner of the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center.
EAA members were there to protest WBC. Unlike the church members, however, EAA picketers seemed to be in positive spirits. Their numbers, aloneover 75 people compared to WBC's sixdrowned out much of WBC's angry chanting.
"Our goal here is to try to bring a little levity to an otherwise angry group of people who certainly aren't making our fellow Chicagoans feel comfortable as they walk down the street. When we hold up signs that are as baseless and absurd as theirs, we're just teasing back, having a little fun with them. Only, our messages are meant to arouse some laughter," said Jamie Anderson, one of the EAA picketers.
WBC, located in Topeka, Kansas, is home to the Rev. Fred Phelps, the vitriolic preacher who campaigns the gospel using the message "God Hates [ insert any pejorative term ] ." Phelps has led demonstrations across the country for years, but only recently began garnering more attention for picketing funerals of fallen U.S. soldiers.
Reporter David Klepper of the Kansas City Star writes, "Westboro, an unaffiliated church with fewer than 100 members, went from local curiosity to national notoriety after it began protesting military funerals. Church members believe the deaths of military personnel as well as tsunamis, Hurricane Katrina and the 2006 Amish school shooting are God's punishment for the tolerance of homosexuality."
On March 8, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a case involving Phelps and his congregants in a case involving Phelps and the father of a marine killed in combat.
According to the Kansas City Star's Web site, Albert Snyder of York, Penn., sued WBC in federal court three years ago. Snyder argued that the protest "was an invasion of privacy that caused his family emotional distress."
However, last fall an appeals court overturned the $5 million verdict, "ruling the church's protests were protected by the First Amendment." The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear Snyder's appeal later this year.
Windy City Times asked the Rev. Lois McCullen Parr, who leads Lakeview's Broadway United Methodist Church, to comment on WBC's theology. Note: Prior to Rev. Parr's arrival at Broadway Methodist, WBC protesters descended on the church to protest its inclusion of members from the LGBT community in its congregation. Those protesters were met by thousands of neighborhood residents, who surrounded Broadway Methodist.
"The theology that Fred Phelps and his followers subscribe to completely contradicts the very essence of God, Christianity, and all the major religions," Parr said. "God is love. God does not hate. God created us just the way we are, and he's a pretty good cook, so I don't think he got the recipe wrong. It does make me sad, though, to know that there are people out there that want nothing more than to be loved, and think they've found solace in an organization like Westboro. How can you ever love yourself, let alone anyone else, if you always think you hate one group of people or another? But, it's not my place to tell people how to worship. All I can say is that this church welcomes everyone. When you think about it, in that sense, love prevails! You know, when those folks are not shouting hatful language, I bet they have a lot of love in their hearts. How could they not?"
View video of the event at: