I wrote a few weeks ago about Westboro Baptist Church representatives being booked to talk to journalism classes at Central Michigan University.
So how did that go?
“The Westboro presentation became contentious and occasionally degenerated into a shouting match and dueling Bible verses, but overall it went well,” CMU journalism professor Tim Boudreau tells Romenesko readers. “The church members spoke their minds, but my students also exercised their rights to question, challenge, debate and condemn.”
Boudreau, who invited the so-called “God Hates Fags” group into his classrooms, writes in an email:
The WBC visitors illustrated nicely that folks who test the limits of free expression are sometimes prickly, abrasive and unpopular. They’re not always heroes in the traditional sense.
I doubt they won over any disciples during their visit. In fact, several students said they were even more hostile to the group after hearing them refer to mainstream churches as “whorehouses” and to all priests as pedophiles. And while some students said Westboro’s speech goes too far and should be restricted, most reluctantly agreed that it still deserves First Amendment protection.
They talked knowledgeably about things we had discussed in class, such as time, place and manner restrictions. They also argued persuasively that no matter how, when or where they delivered their message, people would still condemn them because of its content. However hateful and wrong-headed they might be, they appear to be sincere in their beliefs.
We had about a dozen protesters outside the auditorium, but there were no incidents. This was the only day of the semester when I actually had to turn people away from class.
Some students debated our guests one-on-one after the presentations, and still others treated them like rock stars, taking their pictures with them. An atheist student asked Shirley [Phelps-Roper] to autograph his Bible (she signed his law text instead), and another had her autograph his Village People album. You might see that on eBay soon.
* “Most hated family in America” returns to Central Michigan University
* Students react harshly to rhetoric of Westboro Baptist Church
* Video and audio “may contain content that is inappropriate or offensive”