Counterprotests drown out Westboro Baptist members at 2 Arlington churches

ARLINGTON -- Protests at two Arlington churches organized by Westboro Baptist Church on Sunday morning were drowned out by more than 100 counterprotesters who rebuked the controversial group.

About a dozen members of Westboro Baptist Church picketed at Fielder Road Baptist Church and later at Most Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church, two of four North Texas religious institutions they planned to visit Sunday.

Most of the group's members were children related to Fred Phelps, the church leader, who was not there.

The group has gained notoriety for protesting at military funerals and alleging that U.S. soldiers' deaths are God's punishment for America's acceptance of homosexuality.

At both Arlington events, Westboro members were outmatched more than 10-to-1 by counterprotesters, many of whom opted for irreverence over anger as their weapon against the Topeka, Kan., group's message.

Westboro members' signs included: "Your Pastor is a Liar," "You Hate God," "God Hates Israel" and "Pray For More Dead Soldiers."

Some of the signs from counterprotesters were: "God Hates Signs," "I Love Pie" and "Cheerios Lowers Your Cholesterol."

Counterprotesters also held signs featuring pop culture references including the Twilight series, Harry Potter and Monty Python.

Abigail Phelps, a spokeswoman for Westboro Baptist Church, said the group chose the two Arlington churches because they are "representative of all so-called Christian churches in this area." They targeted a Catholic church because of the international priest sexual-abuse scandal, she said.

Both churches encouraged their congregants to ignore the Westboro protesters, representatives said.

Arlington police kept the two groups separated at both events.

Abigail Phelps said Sunday that the church likes to see large counterprotests at its rallies.

"Of course we want them to come see the signs," she said. "That's why we're holding the signs. We don't put our light under a bushel. My hope is that they'll get the words. God controls what they do with the words."

Counterprotester Kitty Miller, 35, of Arlington held a sign that read "God Loves Fairies."

"I think what they're doing is horrible, and it's hurtful, and they made the mistake of coming to my city," Miller said.

Patrick Murphy, 25, of Fort Worth held a sign reading, "God Hates Fax (but loves email)," mocking one of Westboro's signs that included an epithet against homosexuals.

It was the first protest he ever attended, he said.

"I'm doing this for people going to church, so they just don't see hate," Murphy said.

Counterprotest organizer Charlotte Duncan, 53, of Arlington said the rallies were mostly publicized via Facebook.

Bryan Atkinson, 35, of Arlington said he went to the counterprotest at the Catholic church dressed as a cow to help people smile.

His wife and two kids went too. The family opted to attend the protest instead of church, he said.

"We can go to church 52 Sundays a year, but the crazies are only in town this weekend," Atkinson said.

Abigail Phelps said Westboro Baptist Church has been protesting around the country for 20 years.

"This entire nation and the world has been saturated with these words, and we have bound this nation," she said. "So yeah, we've accomplished exactly what the lord God intended us to accomplish."

The group's newer signs include: "Thank God For Oil Spills." Phelps said God caused the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico as punishment for "antichrist Obama" and the country's refusal to repent of its sins.

As a group in a car was leaving Most Blessed Sacrament and turning onto North Davis Drive, the driver asked Abigail Phelps why she was thanking God for the oil spill. Phelps shouted that priests are sexually abusing boys.

"Keep those babies away from those priests!" Phelps yelled.

Each side briefly yelled at the other. The driver finally sped away.

AMAN BATHEJA, 817-390-7695