Westboro Baptist Church, famous for picketing funerals of not only gays and lesbians, but also of American soldiers, is planning to picket Theatre Cedar Rapids' production of The Laramie Project from 6:45 to 7:30 on January 15, 2010. Westboro Baptist Church was founded by Fred Phelps and is "monitored as a hate group by the Anti-Defamation League and Southern Poverty Law Center." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Westboro_Baptist_Church)
(WARNING: this page linked here includes extreme anti-gay hate speech).
The church's publicly posted schedule for picket events includes the announcement for the Theatre Cedar Rapids event and can be seen at http://www.godhatesfags.com/schedule.html
An example of the content included in the announcement:
You make people pay money to come into the theater, sit down and then get preached to with signs "Matt In Hell" and "God Hates Fags". That is so funny.
A peaceful counter protest is planned and can be joined and promoted through the following Facebook link: http://www.facebook.com/#/event.php?eid=245806256091&index=1
Theatre Cedar Rapids has provided the following information for the peaceful counter-protest:
Due to the extremely high turnout of protesters expected, staff members from Theatre Cedar Rapids have been in communication with officials from both the Cedar Rapids Police Department and Lindale Mall about what their rules and regulations will be for Friday evening.
It is critical that the following information is passed along to anyone who plans to protest on Friday:
1. Lindale Mall (including TCR Lindale) is private property, and because of this, neither the Westboro Baptist Church protesters nor any counter-protesters will be allowed to gather or carry picket signs there, because it's in violation of Lindale Mall rules. Both WBC protesters and counter-protesters will be required to remain on city property, meaning various spots along 1st Ave. near the theatre.
Police will be on hand early and can clarify where you are allowed to be. Some of these areas are still covered with snow; they may be slippery and some are close to traffic. So please be aware of the conditions you will be facing. You will need to re-think any gathering spots or staging areas that involved the TCR parking lot. Anyone from either side who attempts to demonstrate in the parking lot will be asked to leave by mall officials and/or the police.
2. The police will be present. If there are two opposing groups of protesters, an officer in uniform will stand between the two to ensure safety. The police have told us that arguments are allowed, but not physical threats. If anyone from either side makes a threat, the offender will be arrested for disturbing the peace.
From looking at the various comments on Facebook, it seems that the grand majority of counter-protesters are planning peaceful, Wall-Of-Angels-syle protests. From a safety standpoint, that would be ideal. Anyone who blocks or disrupts traffic could also be subject to arrest, so be careful that your numbers don't spill into the street.
We encourage the right to freedom of speech. We also encourage you to stay safe. We hope to have a peaceful and powerful opening night on Friday.
For more information on "The Laramie Project," visit www.theatrecr.org .