This weekend, the Final Four is expected to bring upward of 70,000 people to the Phoenix area to watch basketball. There will be thousands more gathering for the Arizona Diamondbacks' baseball season opener, the March Madness Music Festival featuring Keith Urban, the Chainsmokers and Aerosmith, the Phoenix Symphony's two performances of Beethoven's 9th Symphony, a Phoenix Suns' home NBA game, and more.
And members of the perennially-desperate-for-attention Westboro Baptist Church, best known for protesting at funerals and hating gay people, also plan to make an appearance.
Here's their picketing schedule, as announced on their website:
Saturday, April 1, 1:30-3 p.m.: University of Phoenix, Glendale
Sunday, April 2, 8:30-9 a.m.: St. Clare of Assisi Catholic Church, Surprise
Sunday, April 2, 10:30-11 a.m.: Word of Life Lutheran Church, Surprise
Monday, April 3, 6:50-7:20 a.m.: Centennial High School, Peoria
Monday, April 3, 8:30-9 a.m.: University of Arizona Health Sciences Education Building, Phoenix
In a press release, the church explains, "Creating an idol out of sports and athletes (Final Four / March Madness; Bracketology, etc) – putting them ahead of God in your life and conversation – IS SINFUL!"
That's the most rational part, anyway. The rest is an unhinged rant about how college is the ultimate culmination of the "satanic training regimen" that is the U.S. educational system.
But why picket at a bunch of churches which presumably have little connection to the basketball tournament and aren't even located anywhere near the stadium?
Well, another press release issued by Westboro claims that they "have refused to do their God-given duties." It doesn't elaborate on what those "duties" are, but instead goes on to say:
In this environment where anyone who dares say sin is in fact sin, and they should be fighting tooth-and-nail against that zeitgeist, all you hear are wolves and other creatures of the night howling and echoing through the caves and caverns of Surprise (in Kartchner Caverns State Park)! What DO they warn against? The Roman Catholic Diocese at St. Clare’s apparently want to get their hands on the K-5th graders (yikes): http://bit.ly/2mIXPBb Palm Vista cares only about not nailing down a spot for their services, and their *Mission Work*: http://bit.ly/2nFtt3g they are the picture of Matthew 23:15. Bringing us to Word of Life, they hate God’s Sovereignty and Election: http://bit.ly/2nFMNh0
(The links just go to the church's homepages.)
As for Centennial High School, the Westboro Baptist Church's website simply notes, "Centennial High School, as every other high school, is either now or soon to be given over entirely to tranny sin filth so we do our Tranny Tour."
And the University of Arizona landed on their radar because it's home to My-King Johnson, the first openly gay scholarship player in the NCAA. (He's a football player, not a basketball player, but apparently this is an equal-opportunity hate-fest.)
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Oddly, the church hasn't announced any plans to picket at Phoenix Pride this weekend, which would seem like a natural fit considering their passionate hatred of gay people. But then again, there's not a whole lot about the Westboro Baptist Church that makes sense.
We've reached out to the schools and churches where Westboro plans to protest to see if they plan to hold counterdemonstrations or have extra security in place. So far, Palm Vista Baptist Church declined to comment. The others couldn't immediately be reached. We'll update this post when they do.
In the meantime, the bigger question is whether the Westboro protesters will actually show up. They've threatened to come to Arizona before (for the funeral of a 9-year-old shot in the 2011 mass shooting in Tucson, and to protest a performance of The Laramie Project at Glendale Community College) only to back off and never show.