The Westboro Baptist Church, home of anti-gay extremists known for their “Gods hates fags” and “God hates dead soldiers” protests, has received permits to rally in front of courthouses in Towson and Annapolis, Md. on Wednesday, according to police officials.
Westboro obtained permits allowing its members to rally at the Ann Arndel County Circuit Court in Annapolis, from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. on Wednesday, and at the Baltimore County Circuit Court in Towson, from 10:00 a.m. to 10:45 a.m.
It is unclear if WBC members will actually be present, as the group is known for planning pickets and then not showing up.
But parishioners of St. Anne’s, the 300-year-old Episcopal church across from the Annapolis courthouse, said they are planning a counter-protest the same day to “bear witness to the good news of God’s unconditional love,” according to The Baltimore Sun.
“We will not engage them. But we will speak our message of love more loudly,” Joe Pagano, the associate rector of St. Anne’s, wrote to parishioners. “Come and join us and let us show the world that the love of Jesus is more powerful than hate.”
Based in Topeka, Kan., the Westboro church is not affiliated with the Baptist denomination or any other Baptist church. According to news reports, almost all of its members — fewer than 100 — are related to founder Fred Phelps either by blood or marriage.
The hate group is best known for its protest of the funerals of U.S. service members, and first came into the national spotlight in 1998, when it picketed at the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old gay man who was brutally attacked on the night of October 6, 1998, then tied to a fence and left to die.
On Tuesday, Maryland became the ninth U.S. state, along with the District of Columbia, to legalize same-sex marriage — the law passed on Nov. 6 with 52 percent of the vote.