Peace and Love, Say the SMCM Six

Students peacefully protest against the Westboro Baptist Church. (Photo submitted by Madeline Montgomery)
Students peacefully protest against the Westboro Baptist Church. (Photo submitted by Madeline Montgomery)
On Oct. 6, six St. Mary’s students traveled to the Supreme Court to rally for peace and love to counter the message of hate espoused by the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC).

Senior Danny Ruthenberg-Marshall, senior Allison Yancone, senior Allison Shapiro-Davis, junior Madeline Montgomery, sophomore Josh Santangelo, and sophomore Garrett Zopfi traveled to D.C. to offer a counter message to the WBC’s.

Shapiro-Davis said their goal was “counteracting the hate,” and Ruthenberg-Marshall said it was “all about support for WBC’s victims…not to fight the WBC…the WBC feeds off of hate. The only thing they don’t understand is peace and love.”

Ruthenberg-Marshall had been following the WBC and gathered a small group of like-minded individuals through a Facebook status. Together they made signs expressing their peaceful message and headed to D.C.

When they arrived at the courthouse, they were applauded and thanked by people who had lined up to view the court proceedings. There was only one other individual at the courthouse with a sign supporting peace and love.

Members of the WBC were there with signs proclaiming, “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” and “Fags Doom Nations,” among others.

Montgomery said it was very difficult to see small children, between five and eight years old, holding up signs for the WBC, as well as being confronted by the message that the church proclaimed. She said, “some signs shocked me…I literally felt nauseated.”

The WBC is a fundamentalist Christian church known for their protests and belief that God kills soldiers and causes disasters for America’s tolerance of sin, specifically homosexuality.

This organization was picketing at the Supreme Court because of the case Snyder v. Phelps. This case was brought to the Supreme Court because the WBC picketed the funeral of Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, a Marine killed in 2006 while serving in Iraq.

Albert Snyder (his father) filed a lawsuit against founder and head of the WBC Fred Phelps and the WBC for invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The case concerns the conflict between free speech and privacy.

While showing their support for anti-WBC ideas, the St. Mary’s six were approached by numerous reporters and television crews. Santangelo said, “I was surprised by amount of press attention we got.”

“We definitely had crowd support and press support,” Zopfi said.

The St. Mary’s students chose to avoid confrontation with the members of the WBC even though they disagreed with them. Yancone said, “we had a lot of opportunity to get into it with other people [but] it was our decision not to get involved.”

Montgomery said that they were approached by a member of the WBC. “We knew getting into a conversation would…help them achieve their goal,” said Shapiro-Davis.

At the time of this writing, the outcome of the case had not been decided.

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