Westboro Baptist Church picketing: DU Hillel plans to ignore protest, stage diversity rally

The hate-mongering members of the Westboro Baptist Church plan three stops in the Denver area tomorrow, including at the University of Denver Hillel.

So how will staffers and members fight back? By not even acknowledging the WBC's protest -- and via a diversity rally whose details aren't being shared in the press.

"The building's going to be closed," notes Hillel campus director Josh Samet, "and I'm not going to be there. I'm going to be at a different location for students who want to meet or chat." Otherwise, "we're basically ignoring it."

This approach is in keeping with actions by the DU undergraduate student government, which passed a resolution condemning the WBC but arguing that student participation in protests would further the church's mission.

Other stake-holders feel likewise. According to Samet, "We've spoken directly with the Denver Police, campus security and the Anti-Defamation League, and all of them say the same thing -- don't engage them, ignore them, because they'll only be here for a short amount of time. As we know, Westboro's goal is to bait people, because these counter-protests is where they get their funds. They want a confrontation to happen between a counter-protester and them."

Such a reaction remains possible. Samet acknowledges that many DU students remain upset about the small, vile Kansas congregation, which remains best known for picketing the funerals of soldiers under the offensive theory that military casualties represent God's retribution against America for condoning homosexuality. However, he's hoping this energy can be channeled into a gathering later on Thursday "showing that the university is diverse and united."

Where and when will the event take place? "We're trying to keep it low key, so we're letting people on campus know by word of mouth only," he says. "The last thing we want is Westboro getting hold of that information and staying later so they can protest it, too."

That leaves their scheduled appearance at 9:15 a.m. tomorrow at the Hillel Center, 2390 South Race Street. "But if they end up coming," Samet says, "it'll be to an empty building."

More from our News archive: "Seven-year-old boy pretty sure God hates Jews."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts