EDITORIAL: Support Shepard, ignore protesters

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On Tuesday, Judy Shepard, mother of the late Matthew Shepard, is coming to Marquette along with “The Laramie Project” in an effort to promote understanding and acceptance of gays. Shepard courageously recounts her son’s murder as a testament against ant-gay violence, speaking at universities and events across the country.

However, their advocacy of peace and tolerance has piqued the attention of protesters, namely the Westboro Baptist Church, an independent congregation focused on extremist principles of homophobia.

These protesters have insensitively rallied at soldier funerals, and even at the funerals of the victims of the recent Tucson shootings. They claim that their deaths are punishment for the United States’ tolerance of homosexuality.

And while their fanatical rants offend and infuriate, we must remember that responding emotionally is exactly what these hateful individuals want from their demonstrations.

Instead of giving in and lashing back, it is best not to respond at all. It is imperative that these individuals have no attention off which to feed.

Students on campus have created a Facebook group titled “Support Matthew Shepard’s Mom Against Protestors” to spread awareness and offer ways to handle the protesters’ reported attendance near the event on campus.

And while the protesters won’t be allowed on Marquette’s campus or any private property, their presence will still be apparent. Marquette fully supports and encourages students to attend the speech and performances. The university is stationing the Department of Public Safety at the event, which will ensure student safety and keep additional protesters off campus. We applaud the university for its support of Shepard and “Laramie,” and its handling of the potential situation.

Indirect action is the most effective way to address protesters while showing support for the cause.

Also, if you want to learn more about the Westboro Baptist Church, do not go to their website. Clicking on their homepage actually helps fund their organization. Instead, search for media coverage of their protests for additional information.

In a symbolic gesture, students who created the group suggest wearing white shirts representing peace to the event. Others are conducting group chants and speeches as well as setting up donation tables supporting the Gender & Sexuality Alliance and the Milwaukee Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Community Center.

Moreover, the Westboro Baptist Church uses religion as a façade, misrepresenting Christianity for a vile cause. They distort Christianity’s values, making their appearance at Marquette’s Jesuit campus all the more difficult to endure.

And even though First Amendment rights enable free speech, we’re sure the Founding Fathers did not have these kinds of hateful demonstrations in mind. Protests, such as the one currently held in Madison, represent a tactful way to exercise free speech.

The Westboro Baptist Church uses its First Amendment’s vagueness to their advantage, twisting its intent for peaceable protest into a “get-out-of-jail-free card” for their offensive, disrespectful behavior.

Another key principle America was founded on is the belief that all men are created equal. Equality is not a privilege; it is a right all Americans possess. If tolerance cannot be established, then those opposing the fundamental rights of others are also opposing the values of this country.

Regardless of your stance concerning homosexuality, these protesters’ extremist views cannot be condoned. They mock the values of this country through their complete lack of respect and tolerance. Do your part to support the equality of all Americans regardless of their race, gender, or sexual orientation.

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