Messages of love and inclusivity overwhelm hate group picketing two East County high schools
By Paul Kruze, Contributing Editor
Robert Gehr and Miriam Raftery contributed to this report
Photos by Paul Kruze and Robert Gehr
March 26, 2019 (San Diego’s East County) — Some 300 spirited protesters held a “Rainbow Dance Party” Monday, vastly outnumbering three members of the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) which briefly picketed El Cajon Valley High School in El Cajon and Monte Vista High School in Spring Valley.
Westboro is designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center and Anti-Defamation League. The cult-like organization is infamous for picketing funerals of gay soldiers and children killed in school massacres, among other venues, with vitriolic messages.
At the local protests, the Rainbow crowd standing against the WBC included Christians and Muslims, white and black, gay, lesbian, transgender and straight residents. They were separated from WBC by a strong presence of law enforcement officers, with local media at both locations. The half-hour protests at both schools went on without any reported incidents.
The WBC contingent was led by the daughter of the late Rev. Fred Phelps, Shirley Phelps-Roper, 61, along with her daughter, Rebekah Phelps-Roper, 30, a trained professional nurse and paralegal, and grandson, Luke, 16.
“We preach from the Bible to what we believe is true,” the younger Phelps-Roper said. “We’re happy that all of the people are protesting against us. They are completely being led by Satan. They all are going to go to burn in hell. Burn to a crisp.”
She expressed the opinion that being gay and Christian is a contradiction, referring to the visible Christians protesting at their picket. “You cannot call yourself a Christian and be gay. “They are Christians who are following an open and flagrant sin.”
East County’s veteran San Diego Union-Tribune reporter, Karen Pearlman, who is Jewish, was told by Rebekah Phelps-Roper during an interview, “You are going to hell.” She had no better words for Catholics and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Phelps-Roper admitted to ECM that WBC’s use of the Baptist name is a misnomer. It has no affiliation with the American Baptist Churches USA and has been denounced by major Baptist organizations. WBC holds true to its own interpretation of Calvinist theology. WBC started in 1931 as a traditional Baptist congregation, but changed course in 1951 when Fred Phelps took over the congregation after being appointed earlier as Associate Pastor.
While the group has protested on behalf of its causes at high-profile events such as the Academy Awards and Super Bowl as well as soldiers’ funerals, the members did not have a stated agenda at Monday’s gathering, nor did they have a particular reason to protest at the two East County high schools.
“You can swing a cat and find all these high schools that are being taught to rebel against God. There are clubs and teachers, leaders that point them in the direction of disobedience against God instead of teaching them reading, writing and arithmetic,” Phelps-Roper said to local media covering the event.
Photo, left: at El Cajon Valley, students created chalk paintings with messages of acceptance for all.
As the three spewed selected Bible verses, chanted slogans, and sang to a small boombox, they held up signs saying “God’s Fury,” “God Sent The Shooter” (referring to recent mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary, the Orlando nightclub, and Parkland, FL), “Fornication Is a Ruinous Sin,” “God Hates Fags,” “God Hates Pride.”
Meanwhile, protesters on the other side of the street under the banner of “The Westboro Dance Party Parade” displayed placards promoting love and tolerance. Former San Diego Sheriff candidate and retired commander Dave Meyers was at the protest wearing rainbow angel wings and a sign saying, “We are the change you seek.”
In El Cajon, the Rainbow protesters drowned out WBC chants by playing music by Queen, the rock group made famous by the late Freddie Mercury, who was bisexual.
Several East County politicians and community leaders including Mayor Bill Wells and Cajon Valley Union School District Trustee Jill Barto observed the protests. “It was important for me to make sure that the kids were protected during the protests,” said Barto. ECM observed students filing through a back entrance flanked by El Cajon Police Officers.
Yusef Miller, a member of the local Muslim community in Escondido, made the trip to El Cajon to show solidary with students. “I’m here to support the students. The Westboro Baptist Church – `church’ in quotes, are here to intimidate and insult the heart and core of these children. They shouldn’t have to go through that. We are not leaving them to these wolves who are attacking,” he said.
Miller added, “The most important thing is to stay vigilant. There is no way we can stop them from expressing their first amendment rights. But we also have first amendment rights. We need to counter anything negative that hurts other people.”
At the Monte Vista High School protest, the WBC trio was escorted to-and-from the sidewalk protest site by San Diego County Sheriff deputies from the nearby Spring Valley post office. The group, according to its own account, has picketed in all 50 states.
The Grossmont Union High School District and City of El Cajon were informed by WBO about the group’s intentions two weeks ago. Both the school district and the city coordinated efforts to protect and shield students from the protesters.
In an interview with San Diego CBS News 8 last week, Mayor Bill Wells said, “It’s really hard for me to balance what they are doing with Christianity,” said Wells. “Nothing I know about Christianity speaks to this at all.”
“I understand that people feel like they have to take a stand and if that’s what you want to do, then go ahead and do it,” said Wells. “From my point-of-view, as a psychologist, I would say don’t feed into the negative energy. Don’t give them what they’re asking for, which is a lot of negative attention,” he told CBS News 8 reporter Richard Allyn.
The Phelps-Ropers reportedly have plans to visit the San Diego Zoo this week.
Grossmont Union High School District public information officer Catherine Martin observed on Twitter, “A lot of precious law enforcement resources were redirected to ensure safe passage to school for our @ECVHS & @MVHSMonarchs students today. Can't thank @elcajonpolice @SDSORSD @SDSheriff enough for their orderly & efficient operations. East County law enforcement rocks!”
Follow Paul Kruze on Twitter and Facebook: @PaulKruzeNews
Support super hyperlocal community journalism by making a donation to East County Magazine today!