West Des Moines, Ia. — Protests outside six West Des Moines churches Sunday by members of the Topeka, Kan., based Westboro Baptist Church failed to disrupt worship services or provoke confrontations.
At the end of the day, peaceful counter demonstrators outnumbered the 10 Westboro members who spent the morning traveling from church to church to display signs stating “God Hates Fags” and “Your Pastor is a Whore.”
Strategically positioned police stood watch over a tense calm on the picket lines and outside the targeted churches. In advance of Sunday’s protest, pastors had encouraged their congregations to ignore hurtful chanting and the jarring messages of protestors’ signs.
The targeted churches rerouted traffic, encouraged members to attend Saturday services and set up barriers to block the view of the protests from main entrances.
“We told our people to avoid and ignore the demonstrations,” said John Glad, senior associate pastor of Valley Church, 4343 Fuller Road, West Des Moines.
According to Westboro Baptist Church spokeswoman Shirley Phelps-Roper, the West Des Moines churches were chosen because “they all have erred from the truth with respect to the sins of America and all carry the big lie that God loves everyone, thus enabling sin.”
The Westboro church’s picket schedule was more specific:
The Kansas group told police it planned to demonstrate at the Sunday afternoon performance of the “Laramie Project,” at Valley High School but left town before noon. According to school officials, the group was hurrying back to Topeka, Kan., to protest President George W. Bush’s appearance at a campaign event there.
Two demonstrators attacked the protesters who picketed Valley High School’s fall play Saturday night. Andrew James Volker, 26, of West Des Moines was arrested after he tackled one of the 16 members of the Westboro Baptist Church who held signs and sang songs that denounced homosexuality as they protested from 6 to 7 p.m. near Valley High. No one was injured.