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Signs spoke for the protesters as seven members from the Westboro Baptist Church silently raised sentiments like “God Hates Fags” and “Thank God for IEDs” outside the Hillel student office.[flagallery gid=24 name="Westboro Baptist Church Protests"]
A much larger, outspoken group surrounded the Westboro church members on the sidewalk of the intersection of 28th Street and Colorado Avenue. At 4 p.m. on Thursday, CU students and Colorado community members held a variety of signs in support of troops and Judaism and chanted sayings including “Jesus was a Jew” and singing the lyrics to The Beatles’ “All You Need is Love.”
Kameron Martinez, an 18-year-old freshman communication Metro State student, created the Facebook group “Counter-Protest Westboro Baptist Church in Denver and Boulder” two weeks ago. It now has over 4,000 members. Martinez, who plans to attend all 15 WBC protests in Colorado, said he was impressed with the turnout of the counter protesters.
“It makes me feel so good to see all these people here,” Martinez said. “I’m proud that I live in this state. I’m so in awe.”
Pastor Fred Phelps established the WBC in Topeka, Kansas in 1955, according to the website. The church is against homosexuality, especially in the military, as well as Jews and Catholics, and protests by holding signs with various messages like “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” and “Thank God for AIDS,” according to the website.
Attempts to speak with the WBC protesters at the protest were denied by the Boulder Police.
CU’s director of Hillel, Hanan Nayberg said Hillel’s student board, community leaders groups and advice from the local Anti-Defamation League came to the decision of not counter-protesting as a group.
“We are not going to give them the pleasure of attracting more attention,” Nayberg said. “We are deciding not to counter protest. They can express their right of free speech and hopefully it will be in front of an empty building and then they can move on at the next event they have planned.”
While Hillel did not attend the event as a group, David Miller, a 22-year-old member of Hillel and Chabad and an engineering physics and applied mathematics double major went to the protest briefly.
“It really bothers me that they are going to picket because what’s the end goal?” Miller said. “I don’t see any real purpose than to spread hate and I think we need to counter that in some way.”
CU sophomore advertising major Eric Sutfin, a 20-year-old studio arts major, used the protest as a way to collect donations for the troops.
“Using this protest to gain funds for people to the groups they are against,” Sutfin said. “It’s important for me to protest because if they are going to make a stand protesting, we have to make a stand to show them what they are doing isn’t right.”
Erin Kroll, a 20-year-old psychology and elementary education major whose boyfriend is preparing to deploy, said she felt the WBC members were abusing the right of freedom of speech that soldiers had fought for.
“I don’t mean to be disrespectful to the soldiers or my boyfriend, but they are wasting their lives on people like that,” Kroll said.
Before protesting in front of CU’s Hillel office on Colorado Avenue and 28th Street, the church members protested at Boulder High School, according to their picket schedule.
Luke Johnson, an 18-year-old Peak to Peak Charter School high school senior, who held a sign saying, “God Hates Chads,” attended both events to make fun of the protest.
“I’m actually trying to make a joke about it,” Johnson said. “Essentially their whole scheme is to get people to assault crimes against them and sue them. I honestly don’t think they even believe in what they’re protesting, they’re just trying to make money.”
Nayberg said despite the WBC protesters, Hillel encourages its members to continue with their normal activities.
“We encourage our students to get involved and be active members of the community and world around them,” Nayberg said. “Sometimes the smartest way to go about things is to ignore the signs in front of you and the other sides because all they want to do is argue and engage in hateful discussion.”
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Rose Heaphy at Josephine.firstname.lastname@example.org.