Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, long known for its demonstrations around the country protesting military funerals and other events it ties to its fervent anti-gay agenda, is coming to Roeland Park Sunday.
The Roeland Park City Council’s introduction of an anti-discrimination ordinance just last week ignited the Westboro action, but the protests are aimed at Roeland Park churches rather than the city council. In particular, Westboro has announced plans to mount short protests at St. Agnes Catholic Church and the Roeland Park United Methodist Church Sunday morning. In addition, it plans to protest at Trinity Lutheran Church which is in Mission, not Roeland Park.
On March 3, the Roeland Park council had its first discussion over adding sexual orientation and gender identity to its anti-discrimination ordinance. An April 21 vote is expected on the ordinance with a potential town hall public meeting sometime before that.
Westboro opposes the concept of the city ordinance. It released a statement asking, “Where are the churches of Roeland Park on the matter? They are silent…. The Lord … has no use for lukewarm churches.” It does not explain why the church in Mission is included and Westboro did not respond to requests for clarification this morning.
“This group will end up drawing more attention to these ‘issues’ and inadvertently cause discussion and a great deal of support for the very things they oppose,” Roeland Park Mayor Joel Marquardt said in an email today. This is not the first time Westboro has mounted protests in Roeland Park. It is at least the third time that St. Agnes has been notified. Once, the protest did not materialize. On another occasion, Westboro protested a military funeral at St. Agnes.
Roeland Park Police Chief John Morris said, “we are going to treat them like anybody else. They have a constitutional right to voice their opinions.” Police will be present to maintain order and keep people safe just like any other gathering, Morris said. Westboro protests are traditionally “non-confrtontational” and do not block entrances or impede traffic, he added. Westboro notified the city of its plans in a letter this week.
The Roeland Park churches are taking the protests in stride and are not making any special plans for Sunday. “It’s not a worry,” was the reaction at the St. Agnes office.
Westboro’s “God Hates” campaign extends beyond sexual orientation to other groups as well. Its sister sites target Islam, Jews, the media and others.