Feb. 27, 2010
On a recent Sunday afternoon, as I was driving my younger son, Grant, home from Confirmation Class, he asked, "Dad, did you know that the Westboro (Topeka, Kansas) Baptist Church is coming to the Jewish Community High School (JCHS)?" "Oh, that's nice," I said. "Is there a community program with your school?" His reply shocked me: "No, Dad, they are coming to picket."
It turns out that the Westboro Baptist Church -- not affiliated with the Baptist Church or any organized religion, does not seem to like much in this world. They are anti-Gay, anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic, anti-everything and picket against these groups with signs that are insulting and hateful.
They also picket the funerals of U.S. Service Men and Women who have died in the line of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Their website, godhatesfags.com, has a collection of the most offensive comments imaginable. Their plan to come to JCHS, as well as several other Jewish and non-Jewish locations in the Bay Area, was definitely not the "community program" that I hoped for.
The Administration and Faculty at JCHS did a wonderful job of working with a variety of agencies to devise an appropriate response. Their overwhelming advice -- "just ignore them," made sense, especially to me as a parent.
The school decided to release students early to reduce the risk of confrontation, but the JCHS community really wanted to do more.
The student leaders implemented a great idea: solicit pledges while the school was being picketed, and turn every minute of hatred into something for good.
When church followers assembled outside of JCHS, they were met with signs, promoting messages of love, respect, tolerance and dignity.
There were no confrontations and the school has raised more than $9,000 -- all (except for a $100 unsolicited donation from a neighbor of the school) from the students, staff and faculty and school families, to be donated to the American Jewish World Service Haiti Earthquake Relief Fund.
"From Hate to Haiti," as the students named their response, was a community program more to my liking.