[Editor’s note: The article in yesterday’s edition of The Itawamba County Times contained incomplete information about Westboro Baptist Church. Despite their name, the Westboro Baptist Church is not affiliated with any known Baptist conventions or associations. Mainstream Primitive Baptists reject the Westboro Baptist Church and its principles. The Times apologizes for offending any local religious organizations.]
Controversial anti-gay, anti-military group Westboro Baptist Church is scheduled to host a picket line protest of the Itawamba Agricultural High School graduation ceremony this Saturday.
The protest is scheduled to take place from 3 p.m. until 4 p.m. on the ICC practice fields, across from the school’s fitness center.
The IAHS graduation ceremony is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m.
Although the group is permitted to be on campus for its protest, school officials stated that protesters are required to remain within the practice field area and are not to physically interfere with people attending the event.
Local law enforcement discourages Itawamba County residents from interacting with protesters.
“Don’t acknowledge them,” Sheriff Chris Dickinson said. “The best way to defeat those types of protests is to not acknowledge them. The whole reason they’re out there is to get your attention. Let us deal with it.”
According to a blurb on the Kansas-based organization’s website, the protest is being held in response to the parent-sponsored prom held earlier this month. The group accuses the parents of Fulton of “feign[ing] outrage” at the media attention teen lesbian Constance McMillen has brought upon the area.
“They had a duty to teach their children what the Lord requires of them. They shirked this duty,” the blurb reads. The group claims McMillen was divinely sent to “tyrannize” the community for this failure.
Since its founding in 1951, the church has been featured on both national and international news outlets such as Fox News. Shirley Lynn Phelps-Roper, daughter of Westboro founder and minister Fred Phelps, has been featured on the Tyra Banks Show and the entire Phelps family was the subject of a 2007 BBC documentary entitled “The Most Hated Family in America.”
Fulton will be one of thousands of locations in which the church has protested. The group claims to have participated in more than 43,000 protests since 1991. The protesters often carry potentially offensive signage and are known to provoke onlookers. The church has gained significant notoriety for leading protests near the funerals of U.S. soldiers.
Dickinson said he would have extra law enforcement on scene in case an incident should occur but stressed again that passersby and those attending the ceremony should simply ignore the protest. He said engaging in either verbal or physical confrontation with members of the group would solve nothing, and could possibly lead to the arrest of those involved.
Adam Armour/The Itawamba County Times