A Kansas-based anti-gay Baptist church has targeted Brooklyn, rallying at a Fort Greene high school on Thursday and storming three Jewish synagogues in Brownstone Brooklyn on Saturday to protest the institutions’ apparent godlessness.
The Westboro Baptist Church, whose mission is represented clearly in its Web site address, www.godhatesfags.com, began its three-day assualt on Brooklyn at Brooklyn Technical HS in Fort Greene after classes were dismissed on Thursday, two days before hitting Congregation Beth Elohim and Union Temple in Park Slope and the Kane Street Synogogue on the eve of Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar.
The church’s Web site explained the reason for the rallies.
“Yo what’s up, God haters?” the protest announcement stated. “Why you teach ‘It’s OK to be gay?’ WBC will be on hand to teach the rebels of Brooklyn what good looks like, and you had better behave.”
A church spokeswoman, Shirley Phelps-Roper, said the rallies were not anti-Jewish or anti-gay.
“How about we call it an ‘Obey your God’ rally?” she said. “You Jews and gays have got to put away your false gods, your idols and your filthy way of life.”
She added that “God hates the disobient.”
“We picked these weekends because these are the high holidays,” she said. “You Jews broke the covenant with God. The beast is going to bring the nations to march upon Jerusalem. Your houses will be destroyed and your women ravaged. It’s going to make the Holocaust, the Babylonian captivity and the destruction of the Temple look like a tea party.”
Preaching this message on Saturday, church members will hit Congregation Beth Elohim at Garfield Street and Eighth Avenue at 9:45 am, Union Temple on Eastern Parkway near Grand Army Plaza at 10 am, and the Kane Street Synagogue in Cobble Hill at 12:30 pm.
The Anti-Defamation League, which has been monitoring the group for several years, said that Westboro tends to protest groups that “they think support homosexuality or otherwise subvert what they believe is God’s law.”
That even extends to the families of dead soldiers. Chuch members have made headlines for protesting at the funerals of military personnel, claiming that the soldiers’ deaths were dishonorable because they fought to defend a country that allows homosexuals to openly enjoy their sexuality.
At Brooklyn Tech on Wednesday, there was a calm before the impending anti-gay attack. A teacher, Sean Shaynak, vowed to be ready.
“I’ll be sure to wear pink tomorrow, maybe some stretch pants,” said Shaynak.
News spread quickly about the picketers. Hours after The Brooklyn Paper’s Web site broke the story about the protest, a member of the school’s community announced that young people from around the city will stage a counter-protest at the school when the picketers are scheduled to arrive.
“We will be there wearing all black and rainbow accessories with the names of hate crime victims on pieces of paper. Please support us,” said the commenter.
In a similar approach, Rabbi Andy Bachman of Congregation Beth Elohim sent a letter to his congregants to prepare them. Bachman told The Brooklyn Paper on Wednesday that he had no idea why the Baptist fringe group is targeting local shuls on Saturday.
“If you look at their Web site, they are equal opportunity haters,” he said. “They are living inside some kind a time warp in which they feel they have the legitimacy to speak on an ancient Biblical notion of what God wanted or, more precisely, what ancient people thought God wanted from humanity.
“They have ignored the last 3,000 years of development of human civilization — that’s what makes their message so shocking,” he added.
Bachman said his temple had consulted with the NYPD and other congregations that had been the target of Westboro protests and determined that the best response is to not respond at all.
“We will essentially ignore it,” he said, just a few feet from the temple’s facade, which features the names of such hardly controversial religious figures as Abraham, Joshua, Samuel, Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Esther and Ruth.
In his letter to the congregation, Bachman praised his temple as a “community that celebrates the strength of diversity” and a place “for individuals and families of all backgrounds to grow and to learn” — a possible reference to the focus of the Baptist group’s anger.
He also said that the bat mitzvah ceremony of Natalie Chertoff will go on as planned.
“She’s amazing,” he said. “Here’s a teenager who’s strong and confident. And she’s seeing [the protest] as a lesson that people will attempt to do hateful things, but our eternal message as Jews is affirming life in the face of hate. That’s been our key to survival.”
Bachman said he did not anticipate violence from his congregation, but the NYPD will nonetheless be out in full force.
Phelps-Roper, the Westboro spokeswoman, laughed at the suggestion that Brooklynites would react violently.
“Don’t flatter yourself, Brooklyn,” she said. “We serve the living God. You mess with us, you’ll get double destruction for what you do.”
©2009 Community Newspaper Group
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