Westboro Baptist Church, the Kansas-based ministry famous for picketing the funerals of U.S. military personnel killed in action, canceled a scheduled protest in Madison on July 6 due to temperatures that topped 100 degrees.
The church, headed by the obsessively anti-gay Rev. Fred Phelps, had planned to protest the sentencing of Philip Caminiti. The pastor of Aleitheia Bible Church in Black Earth, Caminiti was given two years in prison for teaching his disciples to beat their children with wooden spoons and rods as a disciplinary measure.
Phelps and his clan claim that the punishment is just, based on a literal interpretation of scripture.
The Westboro protest was to be staged at noon in front of the Dane County Courthouse, but it was canceled without notice. However a counter-protest took place despite the heat, drawing more than three dozen people who hoped to drown out Westboro’s hate messages. They chanted, carried signs and even organized a sing-along in the sweltering heat.
Jonathan Dedering, a candidate for the 78th Assembly seat, organized a Facebook event titled “Food Drive & Picket to Oppose Westboro Baptist Church Hate.” Counter-protesters contributed canned goods, toys, and school supplies in an effort to “turn hate into love,” as Dedering put it.
Phelps’ clan, which consists mostly of his extended family, began staging protests in Wisconsin on July 1, when about half a dozen of his followers showed up with hate signs in front of Milwauke-area churches.
The demonstrations have received little attention and gone off without incident. The public and the media have increasingly overlooked Westboro, whose leaders thrive off the negative publicity their stunts generate.
In February 2011, the site godhatesfags.com was hacked and shut down for months by the group Anonymous. During that time, Westboro faded somewhat from pubic view and has never regained its previous notoriety.
The Caminiti ruling that prompted Westboro to organize the Madison protest was handed down May 25 by Dane County Circuit Court Judge Maryann Sumi. In March, a jury found Caminiti guilty of eight counts of conspiracy to commit child abuse for teaching his church’s members to beat children between the ages of 2 months and 5 years.
Police intervened in November 2010 and stopped the practice.
“What is important to me,” Sumi said during sentencing, “is there was and continues to this day no expression of remorse or repentance for the consequences of those actions, or what the whole chain of events has led the family and the community through.”
In announcing the Madison protest, Westboro issued a statement that said: “Look what you’ve done, doomed America (sic)! God blessed you with religious liberty. Lying false prophets taught you to lust after fag marriage. Now your judges are putting your preachers in jail for telling you the Bible says to make children behave. For over 20 years, Westboro Baptist Church has warned & entreated you to put away your proud sin, humble yourself before God, & be blessed.
“Instead, you chase lust harder, & now are hell-bent on marrying fags. Preachers & parents taught you to mock & reject God. Now you have a corrupt judicial system that loves to turn over children to fag & dyke couples, while putting preachers in jail when they say you should spank a child!? He that spareth his rod hateth his son; but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes,? Pr. 13:24. You hate your children! Every preacher in this nation should be marching on Dane County, Madison, WI.”