Westboro Church weighs in on Fine scandal

The Westboro Baptist Church announced plans to protest Friday night's basketball game.

On Tuesday, Nov. 29, the Bernie Fine scandal became a bit more, well, scandalous. After a week marred by additional accusers, secret tape recordings, federal search warrants and at least one alleged love triangle, it seemed things could get no more bizarre. Then, on Tuesday, the Westboro Baptist Church announced in a press release on its website, that it would be picketing the Syracuse vs. Florida men's basketball game at the Carrier Dome this Friday.

In the press release posted on its website, the Westboro Baptist Church writes Syracuse University is "full of proud, fornicating, brutish sinners, bowing down to college sports." It lambasts higher education institutions and says Syracuse is "reaping what it has sown."

The press release condemns Bernie Fine as well as his wife and coach Jim Boeheim for condoning the alleged child molestation. In a recent press conference, Boeheim neither admitted nor denied having knowledge of any misconduct by his former assistant coach.

"What people do outside the program . . . I have very little, if any, control over adults. Ultimately, the head coach is responsible for everything. Everything I can control I hold myself responsible for," Boeheim said.

The Westboro Baptist Church has a rich history of creating controversy with its political protests and (often) offensive signage. Since its first service in 1955, the radical religious group from Topeka, Kan. claims to have engaged in more than 46,000 pickets. Most of their demonstrations are anti-gay in nature. Members invite controversy with signs like, "Thank God for 9/11" and "AIDS Cures Fags." The group asserts that 9/11 and military deaths are God's way of punishing America for its "tolerance" of homosexuality.

Fred Phelps runs the church, which is composed almost entirely of his family members. They first made national headlines in 1998 after protesting the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a gay man from Wyoming who was the victim of a hate crime. Since then, they have received media attention for their protests of military funerals across the nation. In a landmark first amendment case earlier this year, the Supreme Court upheld the right of the Church to protest at military funerals.

SU's Department of Public Safety is fully aware of the situation and is prepared for the protesters.

"We've been tracking chatter on the social networks since Sunday and saw the press release Tuesday," said Captain John Sardino. "We're not overly concerned, though. We get similar types of protesters at almost every game."

Sardino said the protesters do not have a permit and did not contact the university regarding the protests.

"If they don't block the sidewalks we'll let them protest for a while, as long as they're peaceful," he said.

In addition to the protest at Syracuse University, the church has three additional protests planned Friday, two of which are military funerals in other states. Sardino said he doesn't expect more than a dozen protestors at Friday's game.

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