The Kansas-based religious group best known for picketing military funerals has set its sights on what it’s calling the “filthy, base, illiterate, Godless, Bible-deprived, God-hating, God-hated, without-hope young people” who are set to graduate from college this spring.
The Westboro Baptist Church is preparing to stage at least two protests at university commencements on May 17, first at Kansas’s Fort Hays State University in the morning, then, after traveling by caravan, at Colorado State University in Fort Collins by 4:15 p.m. local time. In a flier posted online, the group rails against “students graduating from universities in doomed-America this year” for “their aggressive enabling and embracing of fags and same sex marriage,” along with “their filthy manner of life” and “their utter ignorance of the Bible.”
“This is one stupid generation of people that are being raised in this country,” Sam Phelps-Roper, a church elder based in Topeka, Kansas, told msnbc. “It’s been a precipitous decline in work ethic and any kind of understanding. It’s a lazy, self-indulgent generation of people.”
Phelps-Roper said that the group also plans to protest first lady Michelle Obama’s commencement speech before the USD 501 school district in the Kansas capital city that same day. Parents of graduating students in the district are up in arms over Obama’s appearance – which is intended to mark the 60th anniversary of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision, which ruled segregation in schools unconstitutional. The criticism centers on frustration that Obama could overshadow the students’ achievements and limit the number of tickets allotted to each one.
With colleges and universities across the nation set to honor their graduating classes this May, the Westboro Baptist Church could expand its picket roster. “There’s a lot of time between now and then, so we’ll see what arises,” Phelps-Roper said.
The group is targeting graduations because colleges are “a breeding ground for filth,” according to Phelps-Roper.
“It’s a unique time in a person’s life,” Phelps-Roper said. “They’ve been raised, and they’re about to go into the world, and it’s time for some truth. They have been raised from the cradle by a generation of people who have taught them that God is a liar. When God, for instance, says ‘thou shall not kill’ and they’re surrounded by people who they’ve been taught to fornicate their brains out. They change their sex partners like they change their undergarments. And it’s then when that sinful, foolish behavior results in a baby that they don’t want to deal with, then they go right out and slaughter it and then go right back to their filthy ways.”
“You’re supposed to warn them that their sins are taking them to hell when that’s the path that they’re clearly on,” he said.
Phelps-Roper earned a degree from Washington University in Topeka, where he says he earned a 4.0 GPA and commuted to school. He said he wouldn’t send his own five kids “off to live on a foreign campus in some foreign state where I have no visibility of what’s going on with them.”
Known for its anti-gay views and intolerance of other religions, Westboro Baptist Church “is arguably the most obnoxious and rabid hate group in America,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Its couple dozen members have been protesting – or engaging in what Phelps-Roper calls a “public picketing ministry” – for nearly a quarter-century. He estimates that the group has staged somewhere in the range of 55,000 protests.
“The Bible says to believe and to sufferer for the name of the Lord,” Phelps-Roper said. “If the whole world loves you, that’s when you ought to be worried. So it doesn’t distress us one bit that people don’t like us.”
He said he expects the Colorado State University students to “do everything they can to be as filthy and violent and lawless as they’re able to be. That’s how it typically is.”
Mike Hooker, the executive director for CSU’s public affairs and communications, said the school “values the right to free speech” and “welcomes competing views.”
“While CSU absolutely disagrees with the message of the group planning to demonstrate, the university values the rights to free speech and assembly, and welcomes competing views on various topics,” Hooker told msnbc in an email. “On graduation day, the university will be focusing its efforts and attention on celebrating the accomplishments of the CSU students who have worked hard to earn their degrees. We want to encourage everyone interested in protesting or counter-protesting to help us ensure that the focus stays on our graduating students and their accomplishments.”
In an op-ed column published on the university newspaper’s website, student Aaron Kolb urged his fellow students to confront Westboro with silence.
“Why we have been singled out by the Westboro Baptists is not entirely clear,” Kolb wrote. “It seems bizarre for them to come all the way to Colorado to insult us.”
“If you want to respond to Westboro, consider silence. Imagine what it would say if they held a protest that nobody bothered to come and see.”