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Westboro Baptist Church planning protests in Pittsburgh next week

Tony LaRussa
| Friday, Sept. 29, 2017, 7:42 a.m.

Members of a Kansas-based church known for its harsh anti-gay rhetoric and picketing at military funerals is planning protests in the region next week.

Pittsburgh police notified schools in Oakland that members of a “hate group” planned to march along a route that includes Central Catholic, Oakland Catholic and three universities — Duquesne, Carnegie Mellon and Pitt — according to a letter officials at Central and Oakland sent home to parents this week.

“While it is expected to be a peaceful protest, our number one priority is the safety of our students,” the letter said, adding that students will be dismissed early on Thursday and after-school activities will be canceled “to avoid any potential confrontation.”

The Westboro Baptist Church announced plans for the marches in Pittsburgh on its website.

The church plans to protest Friday at the Wyndham Grand Hotel, Downtown, where the Society of Environmental Journalists will hold its annual conference. Pine-Richland High School also is on the schedule.

Church members believe that God is punishing the United States for its tolerance of homosexuality. They say the death of soldiers and natural disasters are the result of “God's wrath.”

Westboro has protested at hundreds of military funerals and picketed in front of Catholic and Jewish institutions carrying signs reading “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” and “God Hates America.”

They also have protested at the funerals of celebrities they believe promoted what they describe as a “gay agenda,” including Frank Sinatra, Michael Jackson, heavy metal singer Ronnie James Dio and Mr. Rogers.

A majority of the church's congregation are family members of founder Fred Phelps, who died in 2014.

Tony LaRussa is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-772-6368, tlarussa@tribweb.com or via Twitter @TonyLaRussaTrib.