Hundreds rally against controversial preacher

Hundreds gathered at Garfield High School this morning as a counterprotest to the chanting and singing of seven members of the controversial Westboro Baptist Church.

The Seattle Times/June 15, 2009

Garfield students and other community activists join in patriotic song in an attempt to drown out demonstrators across the street from the high school Monday. A group of seven demonstrators, reportedly from the controversial Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas, picket outside Garfield High School Monday morning.

A boisterous counterprotest by hundreds of Garfield High School students and other community members voiced messages of tolerance in drowning out a small extremist group's provocative demonstration in Seattle's Central Area early today that declared President Obama is the Antichrist and that God hates homosexuals.

Waving signs reading "God hates Fags" and "God hates Obama," the group of seven people from the Topeka, Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church stood in a gravel lot behind metal barriers across the street from Garfield High for about 30 minutes this morning, chanting and singing about a vengeful God and the end of the world.

As they did, dozens of passers-by in cars and on foot filed by to honk, wave fists, wag middle fingers and shout obscenities at the small group, whose message was overwhelmed by the singing, cheers and protest chants from of the crowd of teens and others gathered across the street at the school's main entrance.

Students, teachers, parents, local church leaders, members of gay and lesbian groups and others held hands and sang songs, with many donning purple - Garfield's school color - as a sign of solidarity. Some handed out buttons reading "I am loved," others waved signs with felt-penned messages, such as "God hates Figs" and "You're not in Kansas Anymore," to counteract the church group's infamous rhetoric.

"This is an affirmation of our community's strength," said Hanna King, 15, a Garfield sophomore who organized the opposition rally, which ended about the time school started. "It has nothing to do with them; they're crazy. This is about what we believe."

Across 23rd Avenue the group of seven Westboro Baptist Church members, all relatives of Fred Phelps, a bombastic Christian preacher who runs the church, waved signs and chanted messages that hinged on repenting or burning in hell. The group is well-known for cheering the deaths of U.S. soldiers, which is says is evidence of God's anger at America for condoning homosexuality.

"It doesn't take many people to stir up a crowd when you are preaching God's truth," said Paulette Phelps, 48, Fred Phelps' daughter. "The world is coming to an end and we need to repent or face God's wrath."

Paulette Phelps said the group targeted Garfield High School because it's one of the city's largest high schools and supports a student gay and lesbian organization.

Seattle police said the group, which travels across the country, comes to Seattle about once a year. It held similar protests Sunday outside two synagogues and a Catholic Church.

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