BY ANDREW KALLOCH
Five members of the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC), an anti-gay church based in Topeka, Kansas, were met with chants of “Hey hey, ho ho, homophobia has got to go,” by a crowd of HLS students who gathered to protest WBC’s message of hate on Friday, March 20. The Church members, who held signs which read “God Hates Fags” and “Mourn for Your Sins,” protested outside Gannett House, the historic home of the Harvard Law Review.
Police presence was heavy. Dozens of Harvard University Police and Cambridge Police joined forces to maintain order. Those students protesting the presence of the WBC were huddled on the South side of Gannett House and the sidewalk that runs along Massachusetts Avenue was closed to pedestrians. Ambulances and fire equipment lay in waiting, but conflict between the groups was limited to verbal spats and a battle of poster board.
One protestor held a sign mocking the WBC’s message which read, “God strongly dislikes hate.” Others were more traditional messages of tolerance, such as “Harvard is Proud to Be Diverse” and “We’re Here. We’re Queer. Get Over it.”
The WBC, whose members have been banned from entering the United Kingdom since February of this year, has become notorious for its virulently anti-gay agenda. Church members frequently bring their message to military funerals, claiming that the loss of life is a direct result of the permissive policies of the United States regarding homosexuality. Many states have attempted to insulate funerals from the WBC via legislation.
In 2005, after WBC protested at the funeral of Army Spc. Edward Lee Myers in St. Joseph, Missouri, Missouri enacted laws criminalizes picketing “in front or about” a funeral location or procession, with a fallback provision barring picketing within 300 feet of a funeral location or procession, in the event the broader legislation was declared unconstitutional. However, in Phelps-Roper v. Nixon, 545 F.3d 685 (2008), the Eighth Circuit ruled that while the “state has a significant interest in preserving and protecting the sanctity and dignity of memorial and funeral services, as well as protecting the privacy of family and friends of the deceased during a time of mourning,” the preservation of constitutional rights necessitated a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of the legislation. Phelps-Roper v. Nixon, 545 F.3d at 691.
WBC lists the sites for upcoming demonstrations on its website, www.godhatesfags.com. The Church stated that it was coming to Harvard in order to, “picket this place of “higher learning” because they are a bunch of perverted FOOLS! They are that way because God has blinded their eyes, and hardened their hearts…really smart puerile perverts!”
While Friday’s demonstration was the first time WBC brought its message directly to the steps of Harvard Law School, it has been in Cambridge before. On the evening of May 16, 2004, as thousands of gleeful Cantabrigians gathered to witness the first gay marriage licenses issued in the United States, dozens of WBC supporters protested on the steps of the United States Post Office, across Massachusetts Avenue from City Hall.