Written by Wendy Karpel Kreitzman Friday, 25 September 2009 00:00
The Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas will conduct demonstrations throughout the Great Neck peninsula on Friday, Sept. 25. The group, whose website is www. godhatesfags.com, states that they are coming in order to conduct “public demonstrations/outdoor religious services regarding the judgment of God with respect to the dangers of promoting homosexuality, and the rest of the filthy manner of life and idol worshiping of this nation.” Public officials and police are urging all members of the public to avoid all of these demonstrations. All precautions are being taken to protect the community and keep the events peaceful and self-contained.
According to North Hempstead Town Supervisor Jon Kaiman, law enforcement officials have described the group as having an “extremely hateful, offensive and anti-Semitic message.” The group claims to have “conducted such demonstration, on a daily basis, at locations all across the United States, and into some foreign countries, for going on 19 years.”
Though the group claims to be non-violent, the Westboro Baptist Church website depicts photographs of its signs: “God Hates America,” “God Hates Fags,” “Thank God for Dead Soldiers,” “Pope in Hell,” God Hates Israel”, and “The Jews Killed Jesus.”
On Sept. 25, the Westboro Baptist Church plans to bring a small group of their followers (less than 10) to Great Neck, demonstrating at the following locations (although locations are subject to change):
Chabad of Great Neck, 400 East Shore Road, 11:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.
The North Shore Hebrew Academy High School, 400 North Service Road, 1:30 to 2:10 p.m.
Great Neck North High School, 35 Polo Road, 2:25 to 2:50 p.m.
Temple Beth-El, 5 Old Mill Road, 6 to 6:30 p.m.
Great Neck Synagogue, 26 Old Mill Road, 6 to 6:30 p.m.
Temple Israel, 108 Old Mill Road, s6 to 6:30 p.m.
Although a permit was not deemed necessary for sites within the town, according to Supervisor Kaiman, both the Village of Great Neck and Kings Point issued permits for the demonstrations in their jurisdictions. Both Kings Point Mayor Michael Kalnick and Village of Great Neck Mayor Ralph Kreitzman told the Great Neck Record that their villages are legally required to issue such permits and may only impose reasonable conditions. The supervisor and both mayors, along with the police, urged residents to ignore the demonstrations.
Supervisor Kaiman sent out an alert to town residents last week via the town’s new reverse 311 system. Mayor Kreitzman disseminated a letter to residents within the vicinity of the proposed demonstrations in the Old Village, a letter stating that the Westboro Baptist Church’s signs are intended to “antagonize and incite,” and that this group “likes to bring lawsuits.” The mayor’s letter also indicates that the group will document their demonstrations with a camcorder.
Mayor Kreitzman emphasized that, by law, they must issue the permit. In the Village of Great Neck, permits were issued for sidewalks near North High, as well as for Temple Beth-El and the Great Neck Synagogue, after coordinating with representatives of those institutions.
Echoing the words of a number of public officials, Mayor Kalnick stated that Kings Point and its police force “is taking all measures necessary to ensure the safety of all parties concerned.” Mayor Kalnick, too, had to issue a permit, his for the demonstration at the Chabad.
The town and the villages are coordinating efforts with local schools, houses of worship, and the Nassau County Police. Inspector Steven Williams, commander of the 6th Precinct, is working directly with public officials and police protection and will cover Great Neck on Sept. 25. Detective Sergeant Gary Shapiro, deputy commanding officer, Community Affairs, Department of Bias Crimes coordinator, assured that “a proper response” will be worked out among the police and public officials, “to assure as smooth and trouble-free a day as possible.”
Local police departments are also a part of the coordinated effort, including police at Lake Success and Kings Point. Chief Bill Lang at the Lake Success Police Department confirmed that the group does have a permit for a specific area for a short period of time at the North Shore Hebrew Academy High School.
Great Neck Public Schools Superintendent Thomas Dolan, in a letter to the school community (see “Letters to the Editor”), noted how this issue has “strengthened bonds within our community and united us in our efforts to protect our children and further preserve our community.” Dr. Dolan said that in order to make this group’s efforts “entirely unsuccessful,” the schools would “use this troubling occurrence to make our children even better students and citizens,” and that the schools would meet this group with “no reaction.” North High Principal Bernard Kaplan has stated publicly that the school has turned this demonstration in to a “learning experience.”
In a joint letter to temple members, several local temples affirmed that they are united in their outrage at the teachings of the Westboro Baptist Church, had been advised by police and local officials that the best response is no response and no confrontation. Rabbis at the Mashadi Jewish Center, Temple Beth-El, Young Israel of Great Neck, Great Neck Synagogue, Temple Israel and Temple Emanuel all agree that the best way to subvert the Westboro Baptist Church and its teachings is to stay away.
Speaking for all nine villages, Saddle Rock Mayor J. Leonard Samansky, president of the Great Neck Village Officials Association, also urged the entire Great Neck community not to “dignify a small group of insignificant individuals who will visit our community to spread hatred and attack our religious freedom and our rights as Americans.”
At a community wide meeting of public officials (federal, state, county, town and village) and police at the beginning of this week, at press time, Mayor Kreitzman reported that absolutely everyone present, including U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman, advised that the “best response is to avoid (the Westboro Baptist Church group) and totally ignore … if you respond, you are giving them what they want.”
About 70 people attended the meeting, including Nassau County Police Commissioner Lawrence Mulvey, who commended the community response to date and said that they will “police to make sure no one gets hurt … it is disturbing that they are coming during the High Holiday days … we will be watching closely ... if they violate the laws we will take appropriate action.” He also noted that the group has demonstrated on Long Island before.
Commissioner Mulvey further explained that this church group “is a family unit … with its own law firm.”
Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice backed up this statement, saying that if laws are broken, “we are ready to prosecute.” DA Rice added that “there is no place in this world for bias and hate.”
Congressman Ackerman called the Westboro Baptist Church group a “cult family” who are coming to Great Neck to inflame the community, to anger residents. The congressman said that “we are not going to be silent,” explaining that no one should be confrontational on Sept. 25, “because we have nothing here to defend.”
Town Supervisor Jon Kaiman called the meeting “to ensure we are all part of the same dialogue, all on the same page.” Supervisor Kaiman emphasized: “we want to be sure we can address this in a way that makes sense and be sure our own community is safe and our institutions are respected.”