Houston’s Kirby Drive winds past the front entry to Reliant Stadium. At one point, just past the stadium, the road makes a slight curve. The main gate to the stadium’s parking lot is here, and the combination of Kirby Drive’s curve and the thoroughfare-like entrance gate creates a three-way intersection centered around a small concrete traffic island. On Saturday, this intersection became a carousel of non-LGBT groups protesting Gov. Rick Perry’s day of prayer and fasting, dubbed “The Response.”
Each corner was claimed by a different group that feels “The Response” violated values it holds dear. On one corner, the American Atheists — who objected to the response as state promotion of religion. On the next corner, the Freedom From Religion Foundation which, due to its strategic location, was positioned to yell at idling cars waiting for entrance to the stadium. On the last corner, a group of Lyndon LaRouche supporters, who toted a 6-foot poster of President Barack Obama portrayed as Hitler. Finally, cordoned on the concrete island by crowd-control fencing: Westboro Baptist Church. Positioned at the axis of discontent, WBC managed to draw the ire of all the other groups, and every attendee to “The Response” who drove by.
The most fervent shouting matches were between the Atheists and Westboro Baptist Church. Small cadres of Athiests would hurl taunts like “Your imaginary friend doesn’t scare me.” Which would cause the protesters from WBC to launch into another round of what seemed to be their favorite song: “God Hates America,” set to the tune of “God Bless America.”
Trapped behind the Atheists, in a small strip of grass between the sidewalk and a steep embankment, the people of First Congregational Church of Fort Worth seemed a little lost. Han Will, who drove to Houston with the church Friday night, is a petite grandmotherly lady who would look more at home serving homemade cookies than holding a protest sign, but her determination to have her message of a loving and caring Christianity was undaunted. “We think that God is Love. Some other Christians seem to distort that, but we say that hate speech is not the Gospel.”
Katherine Godby, also from First Congregational Church added, “Obviously we support prayer, but fighting for social justice is another form of prayer.” Godby’s statement was cut off by one of the protesters from the Freedom From Religion Foundation across the street yelling, “Nothing fails like prayer, it’s a waste of time, it’s delusional.”
The group from the Freedom From Religion Foundation traveled from Madison, Wisc., to protest “The Response.” They rented a billboard truck that circled Reliant Stadium the entire day. The truck’s sign read, “Beware prayer by pious politicians. Get off your knees and get to work.” FFRF also hired an airplane to fly above the stadium trailing a banner reading, “Gov: Keep Church/State Separate.”
The parking kiosk collecting $15 from each car entering Reliant’s mostly empty parking lot slowed traffic sufficiently enough that the minivans and trucks waiting to enter the lot routinely were idled in front of the FFRF’s corner. Occasionally one of “The Response” attendees would roll down their window to offer a “God loves you” or “I’ll pray for you.” This would set off a furious rant from the FFRF’ers about God being a delusion and prayer a waste of time, leading to some very hurried rolling up of car windows.
On the corner farthest from the stadium the Lyndon LaRouche supporters and their Obama-as-Hitler poster remained largely unengaged from the other assembled rabble. One of the LaRouche supporters, who refused to be identified, said that the group was there because “it’s all the same thing, Obama, Perry, they’re all trying to take over and take away your decisions.” He added, “We have to stand up to politicians who lie to us, one’s a Muslim, the other’s a Baptist, but that won’t matter when the jackboot comes down. … The fight between the Democrats and Republicans is just a distraction from the real fight against the government taking over our lives.”
In the center of it all: Westboro Baptist Church, who spent most of the morning singing parodies of songs by Lady Gaga and Madonna (and, of course, “God Hates America”) and showing off their skill for holding four protest signs at once. Whether by their own design, or the machinations of the traffic cops, WBC’s concrete island station was positioned so that the only way to speak with them was to stand in the street. “God hates America, It’s too late for prayer!” howled one woman when asked why the group was protesting “The Response.” This reporter was then firmly told by police to get out of the street.
A block from the merry-go-round of the American Atheists, Freedom from Religion Foundation, Lyndon LaRouche supporters and WBC, standing at the entrance to Reliant Stadium, a more somber, if no less energetic, response to “The Response” was taking place. Organized by GetEQUAL, the event sought to give voice to people killed by the violent rhetoric of transphobia and homophobia. Stay tuned to Instant Tea for more coverage of the LGBT community’s response to “The Response.”