By Micco Caporale
Residents and city officials are rigorously preparing in anticipation of visits from the Westboro Baptist Church, the church famous for its website GodHatesFags.com. The church will be rolling through town on May 22 and May 27.
Savannah is one of eight cities on the church’s current protest roster—a roster that includes everything from churches and synagogues to both high school and college graduation ceremonies. Protest sites were chosen because of sins they purportedly exemplify, sins like using the law to “shut up the people of God” and the lack of “obedience” that comes with a woman preacher.
Groups across Savannah have been organizing in response to the event with Facebook. One group includes the Non-Violent Anti-Protest of Westboro Baptist Church, which is specifically responding to Westboro’s presence at local high schools on May 27. The group is casually calling the day of protests “Love Day” because, as Harmony Pages wrote on the Facebook page, “[The Facebook group is] rallying for love, hope, and tolerance and we’re going to let our voices be a voice of joy so that no one can hear their rhetoric and we block their signs with signs that show what the community of Savannah is truly about. [sic]”
Another Facebook group is called Savannah Westboro Baptist Church Protest, who describes its mission as, “[Using] our collective power of funk to intimidate these bigot a**holes out of here.” This Facebook group is organizing around all of Westboro’s designated protest sites.
While some Facebook groups boast attendees in the hundreds or even thousands, some people have made a show of not attending. As one person wrote on the wall of the Savannah Westboro Baptist Church Protest: “will not be attending or giving them the satisfaction they want! all they want is attention![sic]” Another person commented, “Just remember the more attention you pay them the more pleasure they get! [sic]”
Police also feel that all the church wants is attention. In a press conference, Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Chief Willie Lovett emphasized that the Westboro Church knows how to push people’s buttons without breaking the law and discouraged organization in response to the protests.
“This is the purpose of these protests,” Lovett said. “When they elicit a reaction, they accomplish what they set out to do and others could be bearing the consequences. The less said about or to the protesters the sooner the incidents will end.”
Police are taking extra precautions to ensure both church protesters and protesters of the church do not break the law. Officers from all five precincts, five special operations units, and detectives have been assigned to the protests. The police force has also assigned special training details, undercover officers, and regular patrol.
Other city preparations for the protests include closing parking spaces in front of select Downtown churches on Sunday and strictly enforcing normal parking regulations. Parking regulations are enforced less strictly on Sunday mornings because so many people go to church, but because of the protests, emergency vehicles must be able to navigate the streets.
Chatham County also announced that portions of Little Neck Road and Al Henderson Boulevard will be closed from 10 to 11:30 a.m. on Sunday. Traffic will be directed to Ga. 204 and Interstate 95 as well as the Gateway Boulevard entrance of Savannah Christian Church.
According to Westboro’s website as of May 19, this is the Savannah protest schedule for the Westboro Baptist Church:
Christ Church 10:00 to 10:30 a.m.
First Baptist Church 10:30 to 11:00 a.m.
Savannah Christian Church 10:30 to 11:00 a.m.
Cathedral of St. John the Baptist 11:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.
St. John’s Episcopal Church 11:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.
Beach High School 2:30 to 3:00 p.m.
Jenkins High School 2:30 to 3:00 p.m.
Windsor Forest High School 2:30 to 3:00 p.m.
Jewish Community Center 4:30 to 5:00 p.m.
Congregation Mickve 5:30 to 6:00 p.m.
Bnai Brith Jacob 6:15 to 6:45 p.m.