Students rally to honor fallen solider, counter planned funeral protest

More than 100 students gathered outside the Bank of Kentucky Center April 22 to support the memorial service of a fallen soldier. The rally was to counter a planned disruption by a church that is nationally known for protesting military funerals to share its religious message that “God hates America.”

Westboro Baptist Church issued a press release April 19 announcing its plan to preach “in a respectful, lawful proximity to the memorial of Pvt. Brandon T. Pickering,” on the campus of Northern Kentucky University. Students discovered news of this event the night before the event was scheduled and two campus organizations quickly developed a response.

NKY Equality Now and Common Ground, two student orgnizations designed to support LGBTQ rights, spread the word about the event on social media sites.

The next morning students met together to honor the fallen soldier and counter any disruption.

“We’re going to make a box around them,” event facilitator Mikey Adkins told students who gathered. The facilitators said they planned to preserve the dignity of the memorial service.

The group of students that gathered included an NKU religious studies class, with the professor continuing class discussion until the event was underway.

After students gathered and stood in solidarity outside the event, it became clear to event facilitators that the Westboro protesters were not going to arrive.

They then learned that Westboro had also reserved a spot near the cemetery in Alexandria where Pickering was to be buried. Adkins announced to the crowd that they were moving the rally to Alexandria.

Students carpooled and rushed down to the area reserved for the Westboro protesters along U.S. 27. Students lined the road holding signs reading things like “Support our troops,” and single words such as “love,” “loyalty,” and “equality.”

After students were in place, an Alexandria Police unit pulled up to the students and advised them to spread to both sides of the road in order to take up any space that the Westboro protesters might try to use. The students followed that advice.

“You, sir, are a true American,” one student told the officer.

Later on, students saw the funeral procession approaching. Students lined the road with their signs and flags and stood in silence as the procession passed by.

“Did you feel the power of that moment?” Adkins asked rally participants, adding that he thought the faces of the family members indicated they appreciated the support.

Adkins then led the group in reciting the pledge of allegiance to the flag. The Westboro protesters never arrived.

Westboro Baptist Church did not immediately respond to questions about why they failed to show up for their scheduled protest. However, a media release explained why they had targeted the funeral.

“Military funerals have become pagan orgies of idolatrous blasphemy, where they pray to the dunghill gods of Sodom & plays taps to a fallen fool,” the church wrote in its press release.

The group seemed to anticipate that the community and students might respond.

“Pvt. Pickering gave his life for the constitutional right of WBC to warn America. To deny us our First Amendment rights is to declare to the world that Pvt. Pickering died in vain, and that America is a nation of sodomite hypocrites,” the church also wrote. The release ended with the phrase “Thank God for IEDs.”

An IED is an improvised explosive device, a common weapon used by militants to attack U.S. soldiers.

Pickering died in Germany after being injured in battle in Afghanistan.

The Northerner‘s Cassie Stone contributed to this report.

Story by Jesse Call