Congregation members of the Westboro Baptist Church protested five Emporia churches Feb. 17. The protests took place between 8:30 a.m. and 10:25 a.m. at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, First Baptist Church of Emporia, Grace United Methodist Church, Emporia Presbyterian Church and First Christian Church.
The group published a press release Feb. 5, making claims that these churches were “whorehouses masquerading as churches.” The five churches were notified ahead of time about the protests. The group also picketed churches Feb. 3 in Garnett under the same pretense.
Timothy Phelps, a Westboro Baptist preacher, said the church intends “to visit every city and town and hamlet in Kansas.”
Phelps said the church is concerned that church-goers are being told that their “sins are not going to take (them) to Hell.”
“You go into these places where, theoretically, you’re supposed to be learning about the truth of God, you’re supposed to be learning about fundamental Bible principles,” Phelps said, “and they start lying to you.”
A group of Emporia State students had organized a counter-protest via Facebook, but it was cancelled two days before the protest. Alumnus Allen Reeves, who attempted to organize the counter protest, said that Emporia police told him the group could not protest without a permit.
“We would have needed to submit it 45 days in advance,” Reeves said. “So by the time this news got around, and the event was made, we didn’t have enough time for that.”
Church officials announced the protest in the Feb. 5 press release, just 12 days before the protest. Emporia police also requested that no one “antagonize” the Westboro protestors.
“Unfortunately, I found out about the event only 10 days before it was going to happen,” Reeves said. “No one else had organized with (the police department) by that point, and by the time I got enough members together to form a group, we didn’t have enough time to get a proper permit. In fact, would I have had enough (time) when I made the event on Facebook, we still would have been 35 days too late.”
Reeves said he attempted to organize the counter-protest because Emporia “is (his) home and community.”
During the protests, people could be seen walking around, going shopping and trying to ignore the protesters. Local church officials and store owners refused to comment on Westboro’s appearance.
“I would like to encourage our community – when this happens again – to get word out as soon as possible, so that we are able to organize our own message,” Reeves said. “Not one focused on antagonizing the Westboro Baptist Church, but wanted to show them that we as a community care for each other, and will support each other, despite religious and political differences.”