Between the Lines

Between the Lines by David Lias It's tempting.

It's tempting not to write about people from the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, KS, who stopped for a few minutes Monday morning to protest, right here in Vermillion.

Some may say this will just give them the attention they crave.

But we can't resist. We can't help but cave in. You see, The University of South Dakota was actually the site of a real, live (though very short-lived) demonstration.

It nearly places the institution right up there with Kent State and the University of California at Berkeley and scores of other places of higher education that gained fame in the 1960s for standing up for civil rights and peace throughout the world.

Unfortunately, Monday's demonstration in Vermillion was hardly an historic event. It only lasted about an hour, maybe less. Then the protesters packed themselves and their signs into their van and drove off.

What has USD done lately to prompt demonstrators to travel from Topeka all the way up to South Dakota? Last March, the South Dakota HIV/AIDS Network in Vermillion helped sponsor the AIDS Memorial Quilt here.

Perhaps that is what compelled the Westboro Baptist Church members' protest. Their message (and please keep in mind that these are their words): The university is fag dominated.

The demonstration was so brief that we missed it. But if the signs carried by the demonstrators match the messages contained in the Westboro Baptist Church's Web site (, then we all should be concerned about what people driving on Cherry Street witnessed Monday morning.

According to this Topeka church, "God Hates Fags." And, "Fags Doom Nations."

The university isn't the only target of the Westboro Baptist Church. After leaving Vermillion, they picketed briefly in front of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's office in Sioux Falls.

The picketers also plan to march with their signs at two parks, in front of Daschle's Rapid City office, and in front of Daschle's "queer friendly" church (again, the description is the Topeka church's, not mine.)

We all have a lot more important things to worry about than a bunch of whackos driving all the way up here from Topeka to stage a mini-demonstration in our community.

It probably would be best that we just ignore them.

But first, it's important to put things in their proper context.

We should all shun the Westboro Baptist Church. We aren't going to launch into a theological debate here. We're more concerned about the church's tactics. This group of Bible thumpers is using religion to endorse, plain and simple, a message of hate.

They don't have the courage to say that they, themselves, are a bunch of misguided, unstable, bitter homophobes. One can easily come to that conclusion on his or her own after perusing the church's Web site for just a few minutes.

They take the coward's way out. Instead of just coming right out and telling the world that they hate homosexuals (and evidently anyone else they judge to not fall in line with their world view, including USD and Daschle), they riffle through the Bible and try to convince us that it is God who hates the gay lifestyle. Westboro Baptist Church claims it is just spreading the good word.

The good word of hate.

Don't buy into it.

Probably one of the easiest things in the world to do is select a few Bible verses and interpret them to defend a point of view. In this case, a Baptist church from Kansas has built quite an arsenal of scripture, all indicating that God hates gays.

If we apply that logic to all of mankind, then God must hate each and every one of us. And it doesn't matter if you are gay or straight, a devout church-goer or one who rarely worships.

The Kansas church misses the mark miserably. It doesn't talk of salvation or redemption or divine sacrifice.

Its worship is focused on only one thing � hate.

It's a message we would all do well to greatly avoid.

Election Day a holiday?

Watch voter turnout sink

A report released this week by the National Commission on Federal Election Reform has, among its many suggestions to improve the way we elect our political leaders, cited that the Veterans Day holiday should be moved to overlap with Election Day to "increase the availability of poll workers and suitable polling places."

We can't help but wonder if that might be a bad idea.

In an era when voter turnout remains miserably low for most elections (last year's presidential election being an exception) it's easy to imagine that transforming Election Day into a formal holiday would only help erode voter participation numbers.

There was a strong crowd at last year's dedication of the Clay County Veteran's Memorial on Veterans Day. But the audience could have been larger. Many people stayed home to avoid the weather or to enjoy a day off.

Many voters likely will also stay home if polls open on a holiday instead of a regular work day.

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