Counter-protesters targeting Westboro Baptist Church

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Thousands of people wearing red shirts gathered in this city’s downtown Saturday (July 21) to honor an … Continued

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Thousands of people wearing red shirts gathered in this city’s downtown Saturday (July 21) to honor an Army solider killed recently in Afghanistan — and to fend off Westboro Baptist Church.

The controversial church, which is based in Topeka, Kan., had posted fliers around Columbia in advance of the funeral of Army Spc. Sterling Wyatt, who was killed July 11 by an improvised explosive device.

“These soldiers are dying for the homosexual and other sins of America. God is now America’s enemy, and God Himself is fighting against America,” the posters read. “THANK GOD FOR IEDs.”

Protesting at military funerals has become a ritual of Westboro Baptist Church’s, whose members believe that the service members’ deaths are punishment for the country’s toleration of homosexuality. Since the early 1990s, the church claims to have held 43,000 demonstrations. They have picketed churches, synagogues, government buildings and funerals of soldiers, celebrities and gay men.

In 2011, the Supreme Court ruled that the protests — although extremely unpopular — are protected by the Constitution.

But some communities, like Columbia, are responding to Westboro’s protests in kind — with counter-protests.

On Sunday, for example, counter-protesters gathered in Aurora, Colo., to form a human wall around the prayer vigil for the families of 12 people who died in Friday’s movie theater shooting, after Westboro Baptist Church threatened to appear.

Westboro didn’t go to Aurora, but on Saturday they traveled to Columbia, where red-shirted residents also formed a human wall for Wyatt’s funeral at First Baptist Church.

The plan was to surround the church, but the group, numbering in the thousands, spilled into the street and spanned several blocks down the sidewalk.

Westboro gathered down the street from the church. To some community members, the protest was hardly noticeable — many didn’t even see the protesters, who left around 1 p.m.

“We won,” said 9-year-old Taylor Hewlett, watching his dad, Nathan Rascher, help put a flag away.

“We were doing what’s right,” his dad said, “and the bad guys went away.”

Many in the crowd said they were simply there to support Wyatt’s family.

Beatrice McKinzie drove about an hour to be there. She didn’t know Wyatt or his family, but several members of her family have been in the military.

“I feel really bad that I never served,” she said.

Every Memorial Day, she lines her yard with 30 evenly spaced flags. On Saturday, she brought four with her — one for each member of the Wyatt family. She had seen a picture of his parents, Randy and Sherry Wyatt, and his brother, Chandler Wyatt, standing by the hearse that bore Wyatt’s body.

“I had to be here,” she said.

Megan Miller, a University of Missouri student, went to Rock Bridge High School with Wyatt. They didn’t spend a lot of time together, but she remembers eating lunch with him sometimes and going to his house once.

“He loved to talk to people, even if they weren’t responsive to him,” she said. And he smiled all the time.

Like Miller, Louie Markovitz went to high school with Wyatt. He didn’t spend much time with his former classmate, but he remembers Wyatt clearly — especially from yearbook photos of the school’s Zombie Defense League, a club Wyatt was part of.

Markovitz, a university student, now works for the local veterans hospital, and he said he has respect for the veterans.

“The military, I don’t necessarily agree with what they do, but I think you should support your soldiers,” he said.

Just before Wyatt’s funeral began, the crowd on the church lawn fell silent — passing cars were the only sound, though people down the street still spoke. As time for the procession drew near, people started spreading out with a goal of lining the route to the cemetery.

The procession fell silent as the hearse passed by, but it ended with applause.

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Religion News Service LLC.

  • SODDI

    Good for the red-shirts. They are fine Americans.

Read More Articles

Valle Header Art
My Life Depended on the Very Act of Writing

How I was saved by writing about God and cancer.

shutterstock_188545496
Sociologist: Religion Can Predict Sexual Behavior

“Religion and sex are tracking each other like never before,” says sociologist Mark Regnerus.

5783999789_9d06e5d7df_b
The Internet Is Not Killing Religion. So What Is?

Why is religion in decline in the modern world? And what can save it?

river dusk
Cleaner, Lighter, Closer

What’s a fella got to do to be baptized?

shutterstock_188022491
Magical Thinking and the Canonization of Two Popes

Why Pope Francis is canonizing two popes for all of the world wide web to see.

987_00
An Ayatollah’s Gift to Baha’is, Iran’s Largest Religious Minority

An ayatollah offers a beautiful symbolic gesture against a backdrop of violent persecution.

Screenshot 2014-04-23 11.40.54
Atheists Bad, Christians Good: A Review of “God’s Not Dead”

A smug Christian movie about smug atheists leads to an inevitable happy ending.

shutterstock_134310734
Ten Ways to Make Your Church Autism-Friendly

The author of the Church of England’s autism guidelines shares advice any church can follow.

Pile_of_trash_2
Pope Francis: Stop the Culture of Waste

What is the human cost of our tendency to throw away?

chapel door
“Sometimes You Find Something Quiet and Holy”: A New York Story

In a hidden, underground sanctuary, we were all together for a few minutes in this sweet and holy mystery.

shutterstock_178468880
Mary Magdalene, the Closest Friend of Jesus

She’s been ignored, dismissed, and misunderstood. But the story of Easter makes it clear that Mary was Jesus’ most faithful friend.

sunset-hair
From Passover to Easter: Why I’m Grateful to be Jewish, Christian, and Alive

Passover with friends. Easter with family. It’s almost enough to make you believe in God.

colbert
Top 10 Reasons We’re Glad A Catholic Colbert Is Taking Over Letterman’s “Late Show”

How might we love Stephen Colbert as the “Late Show” host? Let us count the ways.

emptytomb
God’s Not Dead? Why the Good News Is Better than That

The resurrection of Jesus is not a matter of private faith — it’s a proclamation for the whole world.

shutterstock_186795503
The Three Most Surprising Things Jesus Said

Think you know Jesus? Some of his sayings may surprise you.

egg.jpg
Jesus, Bunnies, and Colored Eggs: An Explanation of Holy Week and Easter

So, Easter is a one-day celebration of Jesus rising from the dead and turning into a bunny, right? Not exactly.