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Pickets Past, No Damage Done

Jun 13, 2005

The following news report from this morning’s paper gives a report and update on yesterday’s picketing of the Tracy, CA, Grace Brethren Church by a hate group from Kansas.

By Malcolm Maclachlan
San Joaquin News Service
Last updated: Monday, Jun 13, 2005 – 07:24:50 am PDT

If this weekend’s performance is any indication, members of the Westboro Baptist Church are far more vocal when they’re not outnumbered 10 to one by counter protestors.

In contrast to the relative quiet they displayed during much of their 25-minute picket outside of the Tracy High School graduation ceremonies Saturday, 13 members of the anti-gay group from Kansas yelled slogans and Bible verses as they picketed several Tracy churches Sunday morning. They were trailed by several Tracy police officers, along with people taking pictures and at least one documentary film crew.
“It’s not yelling,” Westboro member Steve Drain said, when asked about Sunday’s commotion. “It’s called raising of voice, dude. It’s crying at the altar.”

Westboro members yelled anti-gay remarks as the choir practiced before that service, the voices of protest competing with strains of “Oh Sing to the Lord” and “Gentle Shepherd.”

While a few First Presbyterian members professed to be disturbed by the group’s visit, several laughed openly.

“They’re an annoying mosquito that flew away,” choir member Cathie Reich said, after the Westboro members had packed up their two rented Ford minivans and moved on to the next church. “They’re pathetic. We feel sorry for them.”

Several passersby got in minor confrontations with the group. Tracy resident Veronica Hudson yelled, “Hallelujah! Thank you, Jesus!” as she tried to drown out the group during its picket outside the conservative Grace Brethren Church on Parker Avenue.

Grace Brethren member Randy Lane said that he used the Westboro visit as a chance to relay some lessons to his children. When he said that, a member of the Westboro group accused him of being a child molester and described a sexual act involving a cucumber.

The Westboro group’s most vehement speech was reserved for St. Bernard’s Catholic Church. Some members of the group held signs that specifically target Catholics, using slogans like “Pope in Hell,” with a picture of the late Pope John Paul II.

They yelled, “They rape little boys here” and “Why do you hate your children?”
Unlike the other churches visited by the Westboro, which reported normal attendance for the morning, St. Bernard’s was nearly empty when the out-of-towners arrived. The 9:30 a.m. Mass had started 15 minutes early, meaning that almost all parishioners were gone by the time the Westboro group arrived at 10:30 a.m.

One of the loudest confrontations of the morning was when three young men passing by objected to the Westboro members trampling on several American flags while American soldiers are dying in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I’m glad they’re being killed over there,” Westboro member Deborah Hockenbarger said. “God hates this country. I thank God for those planes crashed into those buildings on 9/11. Not enough died.”

Over at Heartland Church, Pastor Mark Humphreys had a simple response: “People don’t need to say how wrong they are. Just look at them, and you’ll know.”