Notorious anti-gay group headed for Michigan

LANSING -- The Westboro Baptist Church will protest a Lansing public high school and at both Michigan State University and Central Michigan University on April 23, a spokesman confirmed in a phone interview with The American Independent.

“We have our plane tickets,” says Fred Phelps, Jr., though he noted that nothing in life is absolutely a sure thing.

The church members will travel to Michigan to speak on the campus of Central Michigan University, where they have been regular visitors in the past two years. The members discuss their First Amendment case which was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, which ultimately ruled the church had the right to protest at the funerals of fallen soldiers.

In addition to attending a class and speaking about the First Amendment, the church members will protest at the campus in Mt. Pleasant. They will also have early morning protests at Lansing’s Eastern High School and Michigan State University’s Union Building.

“When we go to high schools it is because we got emails or letters asking us to a particular high school,” says Phelps of the church’s decision to target Eastern. “Or we go to the high schools that are notorious for supporting the homosexual lifestyle ... so it was one of those two reasons.”

As for universities, Phelps said the reasoning is similar.

“They are doing the same kinds of things. Universities are the places where the anti-Bible, pro-gay marriage is being mentioned and cultivated,” he said.

Michigan State University spokesman Tom Oswald said he could not comment because the university had no confirmation of the protests.

Officials from the office of Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero did not return calls seeking comment. Officials from the Lansing Police Department also did not respond to calls.

Myra Ford, president of the Lansing School Board, declined to comment, saying the TAI call was the first she had heard of the planned protests.

This is not the first time members of the East Lansing community will have faced down the group . The group protested at East Lansing High School in November 2011. Community members responded with a program they called “Unity in the Community,” which created an alternative location for people to protest the church’s divisive message.

“The WBC’s hateful message could not be more out of step with the values of the East Lansing community,” says Nathan Triplett, Mayor Pro Tem of the City of East Lansing. “The WBC thrives on provocation and confrontation. The best way to respond is to deny them the attention that they crave and focus on positive community responses, as we did so successfully the last time they rolled into town in November 2010.”

Triplett noted that the city had just celebrated the 40th anniversary of the first-in-the-nation local law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Emily Dievendorf, policy director of Equality Michigan, an LGBT advocacy organization, participated in the 2010 response to the church’s appearance. She issued the following statement to the American Independent about the planned protests:

“The Greater Lansing area will respond to the Westboro Baptist Church’s plans to visit and harass our Eastern Michigan, Michigan State and Central Michigan youth the same way the community responded the last time. Our community will show compassion, restraint, and tolerance for Westboro, all while maintaining a strong voice of dissent and embracing the diversity of the community we live in. We, together, are greater than the blind hate the Westboro Baptist Church revels in.”

Kit Carlson, of the All Saints Episcopal Church in East Lansing, was also involved in the November 2010 response to the church protest.

"Well this community has seen Westboro come and go before,” Carlson said. “No one in our area buys into their message of hate. It just creates another opportunity for our community to gather together again and proclaim love and tolerance for all of God's children."

Phelps says his group has no issue with the counter-protests.

“Whatever works,” he said. “It’s a free country.”

Editor's Note: Reporter Todd Heywood will be participating in the community response to the Westboro protests and will not be covering the story beyond this post.