Church group targets area schools

Protestors sent notices to NIC, LCHS, CHS

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COEUR d'ALENE - A Kansas church group with a fondness for picketing is headed for North Idaho.

The Topeka-based Westboro Baptist Church - a group that claims God hates America, the world, and just about everyone in it - sent notices to North Idaho College, Lake City High School and Coeur d'Alene High School early this week.

Church members alerted the schools they would be stopping at each location on the morning of Oct. 22, and again on Oct. 30 at NIC.

"We received a letter from them over the weekend. It went to the chief of security," said John Martin, NIC vice president of community relations and marketing. "We responded to that, just acknowledged it. We'll be discussing what actions or precautions need to be taken to make sure it's peaceful."

The Westboro Baptist Church has similar visits planned at several colleges, universities and places of worship in Eastern Washington this month as well.

The WBC has made a name for itself by protesting events, and is best known for picketing military funerals.

The Washington Post reported that church members, holding signs that read "Thank God for Dead Soldiers" and "Thank God for IEDs," picketed the burial of a Navy SEAL Monday at Arlington National Cemetery.

WBC members, led by pastor Fred Phelps, regularly protest performances of "The Laramie Project," a show being staged by the NIC Theater Department Oct. 21-23, and 28-30.

"Mr. Phelps is really looking for confrontation," said NIC theatre instructor Joe Jacoby.

"They make their money by doing things that make people so angry, they react by doing something they shouldn't. Then Phelps and his people sue them."

"The Laramie Project" is a play that examines the affect the 1998 killing of Matthew Shepard - a murder motivated by homophobia that gained widespread national attention - has had on the community of Laramie, Wyo.

"What I really like about it, is that we hear a variety of voices," Jacoby said. "Some disagree with homosexuality, some agree with it. We get to hear this wonderful complexity of responses to this very tragic situation."

The play was created using interviews of Laramie residents and published news reports.

"I would like nothing better than for the church protesters to be met with no confrontation, and not have a dime to show for it," Jacoby said.

Local law enforcement and NIC campus security will be planning the best response to the protests.

Lake City High School principal Deanne Clifford said her only concern is that students are able to get safely into school that day.

"There is a task force board meeting tonight, and certainly that topic will be on the agenda," said Christie Wood, vice chair of the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations. "The task force intends to be very involved."

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