News From Terre Haute, Indiana

January 19, 2013

Westboro ‘redirected’ away from Terre Haute

The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — A planned protest by Westboro Baptist Church at Terre Haute North Vigo High School never took place Friday afternoon.

But Terre Haute City Police and Vigo County school officials were prepared, in the event it did occur.

Westboro Baptist Church, based in Kansas, has gained notoriety for conducting controversial demonstrations in which members denounce the U.S. government, as well as homosexuals and other minorities.

Last month, the organization sent a letter to Terre Haute police stating that members planned to stage a protest at North Vigo from 2:30 p.m. to 3:15 p.m.

The letter indicated the protest was for a “public demonstration regarding the dangers of promoting homosexuality.” The group staged protests in Terre Haute in October 2010.

In response, several city police liaison officers were at the school, as was a special response team, said Lt. Jason Brentlinger, of the THPD. Police were present to make sure that if the group did show up and protest, which was within their rights, “It’s done peacefully,” he said.

Westboro advised police they planned to stop at North Vigo while en route to  Washington, D.C., where members planned a protest as part of the president’s inauguration.

Westboro protesters were not going to be allowed on school property because they did not fill out forms required by the school district, said Superintendent Dan Tanoos.

He said he also was aware Westboro often announced its intent to protest “and never shows up.”

Several police officers were on hand as a precaution “because we’re not going to take any risks” when it comes to safety of students and staff, Tanoos said, particularly after tragedies such as the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut.

Westboro Baptist’s Shirley Phelps-Roper, who initially wrote the letter to city police last month, confirmed late Friday afternoon the group’s original intent to stop at North Vigo.

North was chosen because it is a large high school, and high schools “are the places where children in this country are taught to hate God and his Commandments and to rebel against him,” she said.

The Westboro team that was going to stop at North Vigo was “redirected” because of other priorities, she said.

She said she contacted police Friday to tell them they weren’t going to be stopping at North, although she could not remember the time of day she called or who she talked to.