Students rally against religious protestors at Tech funerals

photo by jordan doddsStudents rally against religious protestors at Tech funerals
Online groups decrying anti-gay protestors grow rapidly
by Max Hall, Cavalier Daily Associate EditorBlacksburg, VA (rushprnews) April 23, 2007 – Students across the nation are taking to Facebook in response to planned anti-gay protests at the funerals of Virginia Tech shooting victims.

Shirley Phelps-Roper, attorney for the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., confirmed that the organization is planning to protest at the funerals of Tech students killed in Monday’s shootings.

Virginia Tech junior Victor Kasoff expressed his anger at WBC leader Fred Phelps’ decision to protest.

Virginia Tech “should do anything in their power to stop this guy from coming,” Kasoff said.

At press time, one open Facebook group, “Stop Fred Phelps & WBC from protesting at fallen VT students funerals!!,” created to stop the WBC funeral protests had 32,923 members and had at one point gained more than 1,000 new members in an hour.

Phelps-Roper placed the blame for the Tech killings on tolerance for homosexuality, saying the attack was a result of “those young people sitting in their classrooms being taught rebellion against God [and] being taught that God is a liar … He says ‘Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind,’ and you’re teaching it. That’s a lie: It’s OK to be gay.”

Kasoff said he found these claims to be absurd and offensive.

“The fact that [Phelps] thinks my friends, my Hokies, died because of America’s decision to let people make their own decisions completely sickens me, and I hope they do everything in their power to stop him.”

J.T. Segal, University Queer Student Union President-elect, echoed a similar sentiment, saying no one was to blame for Monday’s tragedy other than the gunman.

Northwestern University senior Zak Kirchner, a member of the Facebook group, described the outpouring of support for Virginia Tech at Northwestern and his outrage toward Phelps and the WBC.

“As a Christian, it infuriated me,” Kirchner said. “He’s an overzealous hate-mongerer. He gives all the Christians out there who are praying and being as supportive as we can a bad name.”

Kirchner suggested busing students from surrounding universities to the funerals of Tech students, saying a large showing by students might discourage the protesters and convince them to leave.

“I wish I were closer so that I could join the efforts in person,” Kirchner said.

Rachel Skytt, a junior at the University of California, Davis who is also member of the group, said she was familiar with Fred Phelps and the WBC from their protests at funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq.

“The families and friends of the victims are going through so much right now and it just makes me sick that Fred Phelps wants to cause these people even more pain,” Skytt said. “I just hope that the students can counter-protest in a peaceful way, because you can’t fight hate with more hate.”

Kasoff said he hoped such Facebook groups would successfully mobilize students against Phelps’ organization.

“I don’t want anyone who thinks like that to step anywhere near my campus,” Kasoff said. “After what’s happened we don’t need to have to deal with morons like him.”

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