Peace prevails as Westboro protests Marion High School

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Marion residents greeted Westboro Baptist Church members with indifference during an early morning protest Tuesday in front of Marion High School.

?We wanted to make sure to keep the peace today, and we did our job? Marion Police Chief Josh Whitwell said.

About 20 law enforcement officers from Marion, Hillsboro, Peabody and Goessel were stationed in front of the protesters on Main Street and at the corner of Main and Lincoln in case of counter protests.

Marion County Sheriff Rob Craft said counter protesters were their biggest concern, but none showed up.

Traffic on Main Street was also heavier than usual for that time of the morning, Craft said.

?It was an oddity for people,? he said of the protest. ?There was no honking, no gestures and no yelling as people drove by. It was just another day.?

USD 408 Superintendent Lee Leiker was pleased with the outcome of the 30-minute protest.

?We had the support of law enforcement, and it was tremendous,? he said.

Whitwell and Craft visited the school last week.

?We had a student assembly and Josh and Rob did a great job talking to the kids,? Leiker said.

In addition to asking students to go about their normal routines, Leiker said the protest was an educational experience.

?Protesting and picketing is part of the rights of people in our country, and the relevance was that it was happening in Marion,? he said.

?Our staff, teachers and students did a great job,? Leiker said about not engaging the protesters.

Marion County Commissioner Dan Holub was also grateful for the job local law enforcement officers did. He was impressed with how the community pulled together by not reacting to the protesters.

WBC protesters arrived in a mini-van at about 7:50 a.m. Law enforcement officers followed them into town from Kansas Highway 150 west. Thirty minutes later the group packed up its vehicle and headed east on U.S. Highway 77 with police again following them to make sure they left town without incident.

While at the high school, the group used signs and changed the words to popular songs to get their message out. As the group was getting ready to leave, one of the protesters waved to law enforcement officers saying, ?Thank you.?

According to the WBC Web site, ?All we do, by getting in their face and putting these signs in front of them and these plain words, is make what?s already in their heart come out of their mouth.?

In Marion, residents did exactly what law enforcement officials asked them to do, Whitwell said after the protesters left.

During a town meeting last week, Whitwell and Craft educated the public about the WBC group with the goal of making sure nobody got into trouble.

?Keep it as low key as possible and there won?t be a lot of excitement,? Craft said. ?It may even deter them from coming back.?

Added Whitwell: ?The best way to handle this is to just ignore them. If you give a reaction, they will come back. It worked out well.?

The protest was the WBC?s reaction to the Nov. 30 arrest of Ryan Newell of Marion, who was arrested for allegedly stalking WBC members and four additional misdemeanor charges. Newell, who was severely wounded while serving with the Army in Afghanistan, has since been released on his own recognizance for counseling and treatment.

WBC members indicated they would continue protests Tuesday in Mulvane. They are expected to protest the Mulvane Police Department for being responsible for Newell?s alleged mischief, according to the WBC Web site.

In addition to the police department, protesters will also picket the Mulvane American Legion, Goddard High School, First Assembly of God Church, College Hill Church of Christ, Our Savior?s Lutheran Church, Mulvane Brethren Church, First Baptist Church and St. Michael?s Catholic Church.

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