Updated 10/23/2010 at 8:30 p.m.
NAPERVILLE, Ill. (STMW) — Officials in west suburban Naperville are preparing for a Monday protest by supporters of Westboro Baptist Church, but they know from experience that the group might not follow through on its picketing plans.
An Oct. 7 press release issued by the church, based in Topeka, Kan., said members plan to picket screenings of a documentary being held at three “pervert-run schools,” including the 7 p.m. Monday showing at North Central College. Westboro is featured in the documentary, titled “The Anatomy of Hate: A Dialogue to Hope.”
Ted Slowik, director of PR and media relations at the college, said although the school has discussed security measures with its own staff and the Naperville Police Department, there is no guarantee there will be a protest.
“These people have not shown up at several other places they’ve said they would show up at,” said Slowik. “What they try to do is try to incite a response from the people they’re protesting.”
Case in point: The Westboro protesters were a no-show Saturday night at a Buffalo Grove high school, even though they had threatened to picket a play about the murder of gay college student Matthew Shepard. About 100 counter-protesters supporting the play’s message of tolerance did show up, a Buffalo Grove police official told CBS 2.
Westboro Baptist Church, run largely by the family of Pastor Fred Phelps Sr., has been in the national spotlight for picketing the funerals of American soldiers killed in Iraq. Members of the Phelps family have claimed that military deaths are God’s punishment for the country’s acceptance of abortion and homosexuality.
In 2006, Westboro members threatened to protest the burial Mass of U.S. Army Sgt. Bradley Beste, of Naperville, at St. Raphael Catholic Church. Only a few protesters showed up before the Mass and they dispersed before the casket arrived.
According to Naperville Police Chief David Dial, representatives of Westboro Baptist Church have protested at least three previous times in Naperville. Based on those experiences, he doesn’t expect more than a dozen picketers Monday.
“There is no indication that they’ve shown up anywhere with 100 or so people,” he said. “They’ve also indicated they would be there, and on more than one occasion, not shown.”
Dial said any protesters who come to the event will be informed of the city’s guidelines — “where they can and can’t be” — and then monitored by police.
“We are making preparations to ensure the safety of all people, including them,” he said.
Some of those people could include up to 200 North Central students planning to be part of a counterprotest.
“We kind of like the whole idea of using humor and love signs, not ones that say ‘You go home,’” said senior and sociology major Elizabeth Micheletti, who is organizing the gathering. “We kind of want to stay away from that and promote a loving and peaceful environment.”
Micheletti said she started a Facebook page and invited 250 people to attend the event.
When she went to class, she was the only one who had indicated that they would attend, but two hours later, 196 people had responded that they would be there.
The student response is not being promoted by the college, said Slowik, but North Central stands by the documentary screening, which is part of the school’s annual Anti-Hate Week.
“We are encouraging students and everybody in the community to take part in Anti-Hate Week and come see the film,” Slowik said.
(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2010. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)