Manitou Springs Rocked By Religious Protests and Counter-Group Rallies

photo by KRDO

Controversial Baptist Church Encounters Enraged Residents

~ by Guy Priel ~

The controversial Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas paid a visit to Old  Manitou Springs and Old Colorado City recently and got met with stern opposition by local citizens.

The main reason the church group chose Manitou and the west side of Colorado Springs was because, according to their Website, “it had been awhile since they had visited Colorado.”

They chose this location because of the area’s support for homeless veterans and GLBTQ members of the community. Announcing their visit in advance helped community organizations plan and prepare for the counter protest.

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Well known for protesting military funerals, veteran organizations and gay rights groups, Westboro Baptist Church, according to their critics, has become symbolic with hate and racism over the past couple of decades. But they have maintained their right to gather under the First Amendment, which the Supreme Court ruled was legal.

Although not part of any official Baptist organization, they remain independent and form their own beliefs, built mainly on hate, according to a book written by a relative and former member.

The first visit came on Sunday, Oct. 13, when they protested outside Sacred Heart Catholic Church on West Colorado Avenue, where they confronted parishioners entering for Mass. Counter protesters were on hand to counteract the hate-filled messages of “God hates gays and all proud sinners”. A tattoo shop across the street was draped in the rainbow flag.

After a brief confrontation involving a firearm, the group moved down the block to Sanctuary Church. The church had prepared well in advance by holding a congregational meeting to discuss the approach the church would take, which was to remain peaceful but vigilant. Officials with Sanctuary Church met with other local congregations to gather support to help with security. On Saturday, the church parked three moving vans bumper to bumper in front of the main entrance to block them from the main entrance to the church. Other vehicles parked bumper to bumper in front of them on Sunday for the same reason.

About 80 counter protesters gathered with rainbow flags and other signs of support for those on the fringes,. They also set up a collection bucket to collect funds for the three main organizations the church supports: homeless veterans, homeless citizens and children affected by drug and alcohol abuse.

Seeing the amount of security and the number of police cars driving around the block every couple of minutes, the group from Westboro walked in front of the church only one time,  They then remained on the sidewalk and avoided  the church property. The protest was cut short when a tall African-American transvestite approached and said, “You need to respect this church. They preach love everywhere.” That drove the Westboro group across the street and away from the Sanctuary for good, as the group sought refuge at a nearby Baptist church. But they were turned away at the door. A planned protest at Church for All Nations further down Colorado Avenue toward downtown Colorado Springs never took place.

On Oct. 14, the Westboro group stood in front of Manitou Springs High School holding the same signs behind a police barricade, while about 50 counter protesters stood on the opposite side of the street, avoiding school property. Along with members of the local media, representatives of various churches in Manitou Springs and in the shadow of Manitou Springs Police officers, El Paso County Sheriff deputies, school administrators and city of Manitou Springs officials, the protest remained peaceful. School officials had delayed the start of school for the high school and middle school by two hours to avoid any conflicts, as the group known as the Parasol Patrol was on hand to shelter students, just in case. The Parasol Patrol, out of Douglas County, protects GLBTQ youth from bullying and other forms of public abuse by using umbrellas to block signs and other forms of hatred at protests.

In advance of the protest, students at Manitou Springs High School painted the sidewalk at the school in rainbow colors and, because of the delay in start times for students, the Westboro group protested in front of a mostly-empty building.

The protest was short lived, as the group sped away in minivans, where they headed off to breakfast at the Stagecoach Inn in Manitou Springs before returning home to Topeka, Kansas.