The distance that separated the protesters spanned three lanes of traffic on University Avenue.

But for Shirley Phelps-Roper, it was the distance between heaven and hell.

Phelps-Roper, the daughter of the Westboro Baptist Church pastor, was one of about 10 members from the church who came to Gainesville to spread one message: God hates.

Insults flew like speeding cars, signs projected messages of humor and hate, and costumed protesters danced to an eclectic mix blaring from boom boxes.

At the four-stop protest Sunday, hundreds of counter-protesters outnumbered the members from the Kansas church, which has gained national notoriety for its Web site,

Lou Bouton, a 51-year-old former drag queen from Gainesville, was among the counter-protesters who demonstrated against the church.

“I have nothing better to do, so I like to come out here and be an annoyance,” he said.

But for some Gainesville residents, the real annoyance was the radical church, which has made national headlines for its controversial stances on homosexuality, Jews, Catholics, Muslims and African-Americans, among others.

Westboro Baptist Church began its Gainesville tour at the Trinity United Methodist Church, followed by a stop at the UF Hillel. They then went across town to Queen of Peace Catholic Church before rounding out the day at St. Augustine Catholic Church.

Phelps-Roper, whose father, Fred, is the pastor of Westboro Baptist Church, said the city is made up of rebels against God who are sprinting toward destruction.

“Your university is a beacon of disobedience that shines forth from this nation,” she said. “[God] gave you that fag of a mayor because you’re thankless.”

Phelps-Roper was referring to Mayor-elect Craig Lowe, who briefly addressed a counter-protest at the Bo Diddley Community Plaza downtown while members of the Westboro Baptist Church picketed at UF.

At the counter-protest, which was called Love Conquers Hate: A Rally for Human Rights, Lowe spoke about ways gay and lesbian  rights can be expanded in Florida.

“Let’s commit together so that in Gainesville, Florida, love will conquer all,” he said.

Lowe wasn't the only public figure speaking out against the Kansas church.

Former mayoral candidate Don Marsh picketed alongside the counter-protesters at the Trinity United Methodist Church protest.

Carrying signs that said, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” and “Prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you,” Marsh made it clear that the church did not represent his viewpoints.

“These are not my people,” he said.

But Wayne Sapp, a pastor with the Dove World Outreach Center stood with members of his congregation alongside the Westboro Baptist Church members at Trinity United Methodist Church.

Sapp's group and Westboro Baptist members sang songs such as “This Land is Going Straight to Hell” and “I’m Ashamed to Be an American,” to the tune of “This Land is Your Land” and “I’m Proud to Be an American” respectively.

According to Sapp, the Westboro Baptist Church teaches the whole Bible.

“Churches like to talk about love and acceptance, but they forget to talk about rebuke and correction,” Sapp said. “The world has rejected God. Now God is rejecting the world.”

Despite the singing and chanting, both sides remained civil.

“It’s the most peaceful protest I’ve ever seen,” said Lt. Stan Perry of the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office.

The tranquil mood turned more spirited once the protesters left Trinity United Methodist Church and drove to the UF Hillel, where the church members were surrounded by a swarm of costumed individuals who danced, sang and carried signs with messages such as “God hates hats,” “This is a sign,” “Drink the Kool-Aid” and “Fred Phelps is Mah Baby Daddy.”

“The Song that Never Ends” was the longest-lasting song sung by the counter-protesters, who also  chanted as they marched in circles in front of the Kansas church members.

“We’re here to steal [Westboro’s] thunder and celebrate life,” said Thomas Baker, a UF aerospace engineering senior who was dressed as a merman.

Amid the absurdity, tensions rose when one Jewish student confronted Phelps-Roper.

“You’re a lying son of a bitch,” Phelps-Roper told the student. “You know God is going to cause the nations to march on Jerusalem, and your women are going to be ravished.”

Jewish students joined the counter-protesters at the UF Hillel, which was decorated with blue and white balloons in celebration of Israel’s Independence Day.

“I’m so happy so many [counter-protesters] came by,” said UF mechanical engineering senior Josh Greer, who is Jewish. “[Westboro Baptist Church] doesn’t even believe that these people have a right to exist. It’s unfathomable.”

Katrina Bryant, a 6-year-old who attended the Hillel protest with her mother, said Westboro Baptist Church does not represent the image of God she believes in.

Although she is just learning to read, she knew that the messages on the church’s signs were not those of her own.

“I wanted to show that God loves,” she said. “God is a really, really good person.”

(16) comments


Before Dove World swamps this board, let it be known that Dove stood alongside, in alliance with, and in support of a group (WBC) that even the KU KLUX KLAN denounced earlier this month in a press release!

News Release

NOTE: The Ku Klux Klan, LLC. has not or EVER will have ANY connection with The “Westboro Baptist Church”. We absolutely repudiate their activities.

The Ku Klux Klan, LLC.


mk, really? The KKK? I'm not sure how racist the WBC is but I know the KKK is a bunch of back woods hicks. I still lump WBC, Dove, and the KKK into the category of "should have been aborted".

Justin Wooten

i would imagine the KKK doesn't want anything to do with them because of their protests outside of funerals of dead soldiers. KKK types are generally pro-killing poor brown people in third world countries, while Fred Phelps was actually very pro-Saddam, even though he said in 2006 Saddam was in hell (as well as Gerald Ford, who died the same week).


It's too generous to call WBC a "radical church." They are a hate group, as formally designated by Southern Poverty Law Center, and should be classified as such by the media .... along with the KKK and WBC's new bedfellow, Dove World.


Westboro gets your attention and gets people thinking - does the Bible support what they say? Where is America headed? Where are you headed? Heaven or Hell?
America is a mess - politically and morally. We can't just sit around and do nothing behind our nice little church doors. Westboro and DWOC do what they do out of love for people, love for America and the world. We don't even know what the Bible says anymore, and we don't preach it. If we don't stand up to the gay agenda, to the Islamic agenda, we will loose even the good we have in America.


oh no fran! we could loose everything! the gays and muslim underground machine is handing out free gay abortions to all illegal immigrants under the new health care reform! WE'RE LOOSING EVERYTHING plz rebuke us and make it all better.



There is no god.


Those guys are ridiculous. I'd place them in the same category as Islamic Fundamentalists. They probably support public executions and beheading every Friday night. TGIF! The American Dream or American Illusion?


One of the protester said
I have nothing better to do, so I like to come out here and be an annoyance.

The people of Westboro Baptist church and Dove world outreach center go out , because we believe in the bible, we believe there is a hell and we want to warn people not to go there.
We care about Gods word, and we care about you that you change and not end up in hell!
Where are the other Christians in the city? Do you care?


These idiots preach that "fag enablers" are going to hell. I have come to the conclusion that by protesting "fag" events, WBC enables us to come out stronger to protest them. OMG....The ENABLE FAGS!!!!! You know what that mean? WBC if full of "Fag Enablers" THEY ARE GOING TO HELL!!!!!!!!!!!!


The bible is a lie written by men, faith is what you have in things that don't exist.


This isn't about biblical truth. Fred and the Phelps Family Cult are homophobic anti-Semites who indulge in selective observation of the Bible. Fred does this to get attention and to make money. He is a disbarred lawyer whose reputation was already ruined. He cannot move on with life. Several of his children have moved away and changed their names.

These idiots are teaching Fred's young grandchildren to hate Jews and gay people. Teaching toddlers to hate is not only irresponsible, it is criminal.


Fran: "If we don't stand up to the gay agenda, to the Islamic agenda, we will loose [sic] even the good we have in America. "

Perhaps we could "tighten" instead? ;-)

As for the gay agenda, I cannot seem to find my copy but I suspect that it's all about equal protection under the law - or some silly nonsense like that. I am at a loss to understand your sense of superiority over radical Muslim fundamentalists. They hate gays and Jews too. They think that you are going to hell for not worshiping Allah. They could be right you know.


If people like Phelps are the only ones headed for heaven (as they seem to suggest) .... then why would anyone WANT to follow their message. I couldn't stand suffering through a lunch with that family ... not to mention an eternity.


I could not imagine sharing a cloud or anything with Shirley , would be enough to make you want to jump off before the day was over.


@letsdoit The last I heard shirley say , she is Not out there to bring souls to god ,so you might want to ask her about that instead of Assuming, Or just go to youtube and watch her Vids there , she says it there too.

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