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There is a time and a place to celebrate diversity, open-mindedness, and love for all humankind. That time and place is not, however, in the face of a misguided and hateful group with nonexistent public support. The Westboro Baptist Church’s announcement that it will come to Harvard (again) on Friday, this time to protest outside Harvard Hillel to “remind these Jews that they bear the curse of their forefather’s murder of Christ,” raised the hackles of many, none the least those associated with Hillel. While the planned counter-protest to celebrate diversity is a reasonable and hopefully cheery response to the WBC’s blatant disrespect and negativity, the best way for Harvard to deal with the Westboro protest would be to simply ignore it. Holding a celebration of diversity near Hillel at the same time as the Westboro protest simply draws more attention to the protesters and adds legitimacy to their message, giving them exactly what they want.
Harvard prides itself on its commitment to diversity and its respect for people of all stripes. Our values are not in question; there have been no recent happenings of note that deem it necessary to publicly reaffirm our commitment to said values. Thus, there is no need for an event of this type. Engaging the protestors will make them seem like they are a credible threat to our community. Harvard’s values and Harvard students are much stronger than a small flock of unpleasant people with a deranged message.
Furthermore, the Westboro Baptist Church is a fringe group—a fundamentalist splinter faction with which an average Baptist would not wish to be associated. The constituency of the church is very small; Its members are mostly from the same family and are largely descendents of the founder, Reverend Fred W. Phelps. Combined with its nonsensical mission, the group’s small size and marginal nature eliminates any reason to debate them.
The Westboro members have a history of coming to Harvard, likely because the Harvard name automatically garners media attention. They staged a similar event last year outside Harvard Law School to protest the “anti-Christ Barack Obama,” and another one outside Cambridge Rindge and Latin School in March 2009. Continuing to acknowledge their presence will only encourage them to return, as they will likely expect to get attention from being here. The less we take notice, the less anyone else will.
In general, we believe it beneficial for members of different religions to meet and have discussions, but we would like to see multi-faith events that aren’t pegged to the Westboro protest. This is the wrong impetus for such an otherwise positive occasion.
For those angered by the Westboro protest, Friday is supposed to be a beautiful day. Take a walk along the Charles. Spend quality time with a loved one. Read the Bible, even. Celebrate love in your own, private manner. That is the best way to protest any message of hate.
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