Today's the day four Allentown area churches find out if a threatened protest by Westboro Baptists will materialize.
Lehigh Valley Live reported that an attorney for the Kansas-based group confirmed Westboro protestors will be in town on their way to President Obama's inauguration. It's not clear why Westboro has targeted four Lehigh Valley churches, each a different denomination -- Anglican, Baptist, Catholic and Methodist.
Westboro failed to show up as threatened at the wake for Sandy Hook school principal Dawn Hochsprung in Connecticut last month. A volunteer biker brigade was there to shield mourners in case Westboro members protested the solemn event.
South Whitehall police are planning extra patrols and several groups say they will counter Westboro's protest.
A Westboro press release lists the following times and locations for the group's activity:
- 8:30 to 9 a.m.: St Paul's Anglican, 2510 Livingston Street
- 9:05 to 9:30 a.m.: Asbury United Methodist Church, 1533 Springhouse Road
- 9:50 to 10 a.m.: Cathedral of St. Catharine, 210 N. 18th Street
- 10:30 to 11 a.m.: First Baptist Church, 1808 N. 19th Street
Here's an overview of the counter protests that Patch knows of:
- Starts at 7:30 a.m. from Schoch Harley Davidson, 4300 Manor Drive, Stroudsburg.
- According to the group's Facebook Page, participants will ride to the sites listed by Westboro. The organizer of the ride states, "I believe bad things happen when good people do nothing." Those who don't have a bike are welcome to follow the group in a car.
- Starts at 8 a.m following the Westboro protest schedule at four churches
- According to the Facebook page, the group plans to stand across the street from the Westboro group to -- as the organizer states --"Show disdain for WBC's message."
"Often they don't show. We're hoping that occurs," South Whitehall Police Lt. John Christman told Patch on Wednesday. He and township Manager Jon Hammer met with the pastors at the targeted churches in South Whitehall about the matter on Tuesday.
If Westboro does picket, authorities will "let them do what they do," Christman said. "Let them have their protest." However, police would need to take appropriate action if they block roadways, he said.
Christman said the police department will likely have extra patrol cars and undercover officers on duty. He said he heard counter-protests may be planned.
When asked why First Baptist may have been targeted, Pastor Chuck Reed said, "We're an old Baptist church and I think they assume we're a liberal church."
But, he said, "We're conservative evangelical. We're not liberal at all."
He said Westboro seemed to hit four corners of theology in the churches they are targeting on Sunday—Baptist, Methodist, Catholic and Anglican.
He said First Baptist Church does not support Westboro's views but is not worried about the visit. "We've been praying for them," Reed said.
"We're a biblically driven, local evangelical church ... and we just love people. We worship God as a community."
Kansas-based Westboro is an independent Baptist church known for its extreme opposition to homosexuality and its protests at military funerals.
An online petition to classify Westboro as a hate group and revoke its federal tax-exempt status has gained close to 74,000 signatures.