Westboro Demonstration Is All Wet

Five members of the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC), a fringe religious organization based in Topeka, Kan., stood outside of Dickinson High School this afternoon hurling epithets and singing songs about gays, Jews, President Obama and other objects of their ire. Neither the heavy rain nor the brief scattering of rocks and bottles thrown at the protesters deterred them from staying at their designated location for the full 35 minutes allowed by their permit, until they were escorted away by police at 3 o’clock. WBC’s stop at Dickinson was part of a whirlwind three-day New Jersey tour including four stops in Hudson County.

Speaking by phone to JCI on Monday, WBC leader Shirley Phelps-Roper stated that Dickinson was chosen because it is a “good representative of New Jersey students,” whom she referred to as “doomed … left with no jobs, no money, no housing, no future and no peace.” WBC contends that the United States and its citizens are being punished for a variety of sins, often pointing to homosexuality in particular as the source of God’s wrath. The signs and chants that WBC uses at protests reflect this belief, carrying slogans such as “God Hates Fags” and “America Is Doomed.”

Many students at the school did not see or hear the protest. Police Chief Tom Comey, who was present at the scene, stated that school was dismissed early, with students leaving in intervals beginning at 2:05 pm. By 2:45 pm all students had left campus, being escorted from the north entrance of the grounds, along Washburn Street and to Newark Avenue west of Palisade Avenue through the Hudson Gardens housing complex. The WBC protesters were located on Newark Avenue east of Palisade Avenue, at the southern end of DIckinson’s large campus. For a short period, a hundred or more students gathered on Newark Avenue opposite the WBC protesters, and a few students threw rocks and bottles in their direction. Police quickly dispersed the students and no injuries or arrests were reported.

JCI was not permitted by police to approach the protesters during the demonstration due to “safety concerns,” but Phelps-Roper was reached by phone afterwards. She described the protest as a “rousing success,” saying that police and school administrators “were absolutely required to face up to the fact that those … little violent thieves … are the product of their moral example.”

Although WBC’s protest in Hoboken last night drew a small crowd of counter-protesters, a counter-protest planned for today by the LGBT group Hudson Diversity Action Council (HDAC) was cancelled last week when the organizers became convinced that it would be “unnecessary.” HDAC President Walt Boraczek did not respond to a request for more detail, but stated in an email to local activists that they had been assured that “Jersey City’s young people [would] be protected from exposure to the planned demonstration” and did not wish to participate in giving WBC any media attention. Aside from the student rock-throwers and a handful of mostly silent observers who stood across Newark Avenue, there was no response to WBC from the community at the protest.