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Westboro Baptist Church Plans to Protest Hillel

In this Crimson file photo, Harvard students counter-protest the Westboro Baptist Church on March 22, 2009.  Members of the church are planning to picket outside Harvard Hillel this Friday, December 3.
In this Crimson file photo, Harvard students counter-protest the Westboro Baptist Church on March 22, 2009. Members of the church are planning to picket outside Harvard Hillel this Friday, December 3.
By Kelly K. W. Lam and David H.A. LeBoeuf, Contributing Writers

Westboro Baptist Church, a Kansas-based religious organization which hosts anti-homosexual protests across the country, is scheduled to return to Harvard to protest outside Harvard Hillel Friday morning.

Board members of Harvard Hillel and undergraduates across campus are planning a “Surprise Absurdity Protest” to counter the Westboro Baptist Church’s anti-semitic message.

The church, known for its slogan “God hates fags,” protested in Cambridge twice last year—once at Harvard Law School and once at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School.

The church’s protest is part of a series of events scheduled in Massachusetts, including demonstrations outside of the Islamic Center of Boston in Wayland, Brandeis University’s Hillel, and Framingham High School, which is putting on a production of the Laramie Project.

Harvard’s counter-protest organizers said that the Surprise Absurdity Protest is meant to highlight the ridiculous nature of the Westboro Baptist Church’s message.

“We don’t want to acknowledge their protest as serious,” Hillel’s Vice President for Community Relations Lilli R. Margolin ’11 said. “We think it’s absurd.”

Margolin is working with other student groups to make the counter-protest a “whimsical event” that includes live music, food, and signs with sayings such as “God hates figs” and “The sky is too blue.”

The Westboro Baptist Church has long targeted gays and holds protests outside U.S. soldiers’ funerals, claiming that their deaths were justified due to America’s role as a “fag enabler.” The group has recently turned its attention to Jews, whom it blames for killing Jesus on its website.

The Westboro Baptist Church’s website indicates that it will be protesting outside of Harvard Hillel from 10 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.

Counter-protesters are expected to gather inside of Hillel beginning at 9 a.m., according to Margolin.

But over House e-mail lists, some undergraduates expressed concerns about the proposed counter-protest.

Joanna F. Behrman ’13, a Jewish student from Kansas, the group’s home state, said she thinks the counter-protest would give the church undue attention.

Behrman also said that she is worried the counter-protest may endanger children, who participate in the church’s protests.

Instead, she called for a more “positive” counter-protest that would bring the campus together, instead of focusing on the “absurd” nature of the church’s claims.

In an e-mail sent over the Mather House open list, Behrman cautioned student group leaders of the possibility that the Westboro group might sue should physical contact take place.

Margolin acknowledged the possibility of legal action and said she plans to brief all counter-protesters instructing them not to engage the Westboro Baptist Church directly.

Marco Chan ’11, co-chair of the Harvard College Queer Students and Allies, participated in two previous counter-protests to the Westboro Baptist Church that occurred in Cambridge last year.

Last May, he collaborated with other student groups, including the Harvard Democrats, to organize a Phelps-a-thon fundraiser which raised money for Cambridge Cares About AIDS, which has since merged with the Aids Action Committee.

Chan said that the protest on Friday event would show the campus’ united opposition to the message of Westboro Church.

“As long as they’re doing this, there is a need for plenty more people to show them that their hate is unacceptable,” Chan said.

“It’s not so much for the Westboro Baptist Church, as for us to come together as a community,” he added.

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