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The importance of exposing and confronting hate groups

Jonathan P Hicks | 6/12/2014, 4:03 p.m.
I am a proud graduate of Woodrow Wilson High School, a public school in the northwest section of Washington, D.C. ...
Jonathan P. Hicks

I am a proud graduate of Woodrow Wilson High School, a public school in the northwest section of Washington, D.C. And although it has been decades since I was a student at Wilson, I remain proud of the students there, particularly for the strong positions they have taken on important social issues.

Students at Wilson recently decided to host their very own Pride Day, a daylong event attended by more than 20 organizations that support gay students. Wilson also made history as the first public school in D.C. to have a pride celebration.

Under normal circumstances, this would be a notable but not particularly newsworthy event. What has catapulted the Wilson event into importance is the fact that it was targeted by a Kansas-based church group that announced that it would stage a protest against the students’ action.

Why a group would travel more than 1,000 miles to protest an event seemingly unrelated to its congregation is baffling. However, the church group in question is the Westboro Baptist Church, which is known for highly divisive, racist and homophobic activity.

The church has also made headlines recently by announcing plans to stage a demonstration outside of the funeral services for Maya Angelou, the renowned poet, writer and activist. It seems her views on tolerance for all humanity were simply too much for Westboro Baptist.

The organization, which is not affiliated with any Baptist denomination, is not really so much a church as it is a hate group. The church has made a name for itself by picketing all manner of events. By their own count, the group pickets about six locations every month, some in their home of Topeka and others throughout the country, with officials of the group saying they have conducted demonstrations in all 50 states.

Their picketing is usually steeped in strongly anti-gay rhetoric, but they have been known for intolerance against African-Americans, Muslim-Americans and Jewish-Americans. For example, the church doctrine views President Barack Obama as the Antichrist. In a Fox News interview, Margie Phelps, the daughter of the group’s founder, said that the president is “absolutely” going to hell, and that Obama’s presidency was a certain sign of the apocalypse.

One might be tempted to dismiss such groups as fringe organizations made up of, well, kooks. But the reality is that hate groups and organizations with extreme philosophies are not moving off the American landscape. Such extreme views should not be ignored or treated like some annoyance that will go away on its own. These groups and their leaders should be exposed and confronted.

Fortunately, the students at Wilson High School turned Westboro’s protest of their Pride Day into a counter protest to condemn intolerance, complete with various Washington politicians. For me, it is, once again, a source of pride in my alma mater.

Even as high school students, these young people are determined to state their views on the importance of people accepting their fellow human beings. It is a message many of their elders would do well to heed.