By COLLIN BERGLUND
COLLEGE PARK, Md. (February 24, 2011) Residents of University Park and the surrounding community plan to counterprotest the Westboro Baptist Church picket planned for Northwestern High School Tuesday.
"For (the Westboro Baptist Church) to say they know God's mind and say he condemns people he created a certain way is abhorrent to me," said the Rev. Noreen Dubay, 54, an Episcopalian priest at St. Matthew's Parish in Hyattsville, who said she hopes to attend the counterprotest.
Westboro Baptist Church members—known for their anti-homosexual stance—have said they will be outside the Hyattsville high school between 9 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. Tuesday to protest "the broken moral compass of this generation," according to Shirley Phelps-Roper, a spokeswoman and daughter of the church's founder.
Nicole Lucier, 36, of University Park, is helping to organize the counterprotest planned across the street from the high school, along two blocks of Adelphi Road. Lucier also created a Facebook event for it.
As of Thursday morning, Facebook listed 91 people as expecting to attend Tuesday's event. Lucier said she is hoping that as many as 200 people attend.
"Students at the University of Maryland and retirees might be our biggest source, just because of the time of day" when many are at work, Lucier said. "But if it was on a Saturday, you might see the whole town of University Park out there."
Between now and Tuesday, Lucier said she plans to organize sign-making events at local churches and help train counterprotesters to not directly respond to Westboro protesters if confronted.
"They seem to particularly enjoy it when they can incite other people to break the law," Lucier said.
The Kansas-based church is at the center of a Supreme Court case that stems from a Maryland protest in which church members picketed the funeral of a slain Marine from Carroll County. The father of the Marine sued, but a federal appeals court ruled the church members were protected by the First Amendment.
The Supreme Court heard arguments on the case in October and will decide if the First Amendment protects protesters at funerals from liability for intentionally inflicting emotional distress.
Students from Northwestern High School and residents from University Park and surrounding communities have commented on Facebook against the planned Westboro protest.
"I sure like the idea of somehow creatively turning the event into an affirmation of Northwestern, and its faculty and students," Greenbelt resident Saraiah Naps wrote on Facebook Thursday morning.
In order to stage a public demonstration in University Park, participants must obtain a permit from the council. Lucier said she will go before the University Park Council Monday evening to request permission to protest between 7 a.m. and 11 a.m. Tuesday.
THEY'RE BACK: Westboro Baptist to Protest 'Pervert-Run' P.G. School, Feb. 23, 2011