Three members of the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church, known for disrupting soldiers' funerals with chants and signs displaying gay slurs, were met by a crowd of singing, instrument-playing students outside New York City's Juilliard School November 3.
The number of students varied from 60 to nearly 100 during the hour-long protest outside the 65th Street entrance. The students and the protesters were kept in police pens about 50 feet apart. A smaller group of students gathered on the other side of the street. Most of the time the students held signs or watched as a group of them played songs including “The Star-Spangled Banner,” “When the Saints Go Marching In,” and “Amazing Grace,” though a small number also shouted at the WBC protesters or tried to engage them in dialogue that sometimes grew heated. A dozen police, including one on horseback, monitored the protest.
Shirley Phelps Roper, daughter of the church's founder, was one of the protesters. She said the group chose Juilliard, which is ranked as one of the top music academies in the world, because, "This is the heart and soul of the arts community.” She said the school’s teachers “have taught this nation proud sin. They have filled the nation with proud sodomites.”
She carried a variety of signs attacking homosexuality, Jews, and the media, but none attacking Juilliard or musicians directly.
Several of the students and their supporters carried signs as well.
“I [heart] Jesus and I believe He is honored when artists cultivate the talents He has entrusted them with,” said a sign carried by Jessica French, a Boston Conservatory graduate who attended in support of Juilliard. The sign also quoted the Biblical Psalms saying, ”Sing a new song unto the Lord.”
In answer to the WBC signs attacking the LGBT community, one student sign read, ”Hell must be FABULOUS” with the last word in rainbow letters.
First-year Juilliard vocal student Brittany Hewitt, of Dallas, Texas, said she took part in the counter-protest because ”I'm reacting to them saying arts are vanity. I want to show them that we are excited and passionate about the arts and have nothing but love.”
Organized over social media, the counter-protest was titled “God Loves Jazz,” an inversion of the WBC catchphrase “God hates fags.”
WBC also organized its protest on its website, explaining, “If you had taught those children to invest 5% of the energy they use for the vanity called ‘The Arts’, America would not be leading the world in racing to destruction. Clarifying, God will not ever have idolatry, fornication, adultery, divorce and remarriage (which Christ said is adultery, at Luke 16:18, and other places) sodomy, same-sex marriage, murder, lying, stealing and all the rest of your proud sin, including your awful pride.”