Photo by Madison Holden

by Chloe Chappell and William Glomski

The unpredicted downpour didn’t stop University of Pittsburgh students from gathering on campus this Thursday to protest the Westboro Baptist Church’s (WBC) demonstration aimed at local students.

 

According to a press release of their tour that released on Sunday, September 24th 2017,

the WBC planned on gathering outside multiple schools in the Pittsburgh area, including Carnegie Mellon, University of Pittsburgh, Point Park and Duquesne University.

 

As stated in the press release, members of the church were intended to congregate outside of the Cathedral of Learning for the event. However, only one member of the organization made an appearance at the intended time. The demonstrator in question was wearing a lab coat and face mask, seen chanting “Don’t commit fornication.”

 

The chants, however, were barely audible over the mass of students who had gathered in counter-protest of WBC’s anticipated arrival.

 

University of Pittsburgh students began organizing a protest soon after the WBC announced their tour. This is the latest in a string of confrontations between outside religious fringe groups and local students.

 

Last month, a Christian extremist group gathered outside of Litchfield towers for a protest targeted towards multiple grievances, including homosexuality and feminism. Students quickly organized and staged a counter-protest that eventually pushed them off of the University of Pittsburgh campus.

 

One student said, “I think it’s pretty good. I mean it’s pouring, but [the students] are still here.”

 

Students — Hanna Riley, Shea Standish, Anna Bonitatibus and Hanna Houtv — commented, “I think they should be allowed to be here because they have the right to free speech, but we also have the right to free speech. We get to fight back. I’d rather them not be here but i’m not going to restrict them from being here.”

 

Another student told the Pitt Maverick, “I feel bad about it because I hate them, but i feel good about it because I get to protest. I don’t like their views, but I get to protest.”

 

One student — Cameron Halihan — spoke about the university’s response to WBC coming to campus, “I think they could’ve done better. Particularly because they sent out a little thing about how to properly deal with people coming to campus who you don’t agree with. I feel like they were incorrectly associating Westboro Church, an obvious hate group to anyone who knows what a hate group is, to some of the recent protest that have gone on at campuses.”

 

Halihan continued, “So I think that it incorrectly made them out to be very similar kind of ordeals, because this goes beyond, I think, just disagreeing with someone. I think they should have been dealt with differently than say if some conservative speaker was coming to campus, which is what they made it out to be. I think it [the student body’s response] was appropriate. It seemed like it was going to be peaceful and i don’t have any qualms with it as long as it remains civil.”

 

The WBC of Topeka, Kansas was founded in 1955 by Fred Phelps. They are most well known for their hatred of the LGBTQIA+ community, Catholicism and for protesting at the military funerals of fallen soldiers.

Although many were disappointed by WBC pulling out, they were happy to see the great support of the general student body for the LGBTQIA+ community.

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