Westboro's divisive messages bring Horry County residents together

Counter protest at MB High / Angie Dones

Outside six Horry County high schools Friday, an outspoken church group protested. The Westboro Baptist Church tried to spread their controversial messages, such as God hates U.S. troops, Got hates Homosexuals and God hates America.

"For the vast majority of people, they're going to hear these words, and they're going to hate these words," predicted Megan Phelps-Roper, a member of the Westboro Baptist Church. "Because it's going to condemn them. They love their sin, and they hate God's standard."

Also outside Horry County schools Friday were counter-protestors spreading a very different message, one of acceptance and love.

"They're saying that 'God hates, God hates, God hates.' Well, God loves, God loves, God loves. God loves them. God loves them very much," said one counter-protestor.

At Carolina Forest High Friday morning, members of Westboro Baptist Church and the counter-protestors shouted slogans across the road at each other.

At Conway High School Friday morning, there was another small group of Westboro protesters and another response from the other side. Again, the counter-protesters outnumbered the church group.

The five Westboro protesters at Socastee High School Friday morning attracted not one, but two large counter demonstrations.

In the afternoon, the rallies were much the same. At Myrtle Beach High, counter-protestors cited quotes from the Bible, waved their sign, and sang songs, including "All You Need is Love" by the Beatles.

It was a smaller turnout outside North Myrtle Beach High School with about 20 to 30 counter protestors to five or six Westboro members. They were smaller crowds, but no less passionate about their message.

The St. James High School protest was one of the larger protests of the day, drawing around a hundred counter-protestors.

"This crowd is amazing. I praise God," said Helen Caudill, a counter-protestor outside St. James High.

"It speaks a lot for the people here and American people. There are veterans here, there's a lady with a son who's a marine, there's one, I am. It speaks a lot for everybody... they don't know what they're talking about, but since we fought for them, they're allowed to do that," said Jessie Mathews, a Vietnam Veteran who was a part of the counter-protest.

"I think it shows that the vast majority of the Americans know what they're doing, and they know what's the right thing," suggested Jonathan Darling, a senior at St. James High.

Westboro members at the St. James rally were relatively quiet, allowing their signs to do most of the talking.

"The only love you see is on these signs right here," said Phelps-Roper of her signs that displayed such slogans as 'God Hates America'.

"These signs speak of love, yeah, you better believe it," she continued. "God is your enemy. That means quit the sin, quit the proud sin."

"I'm not perfect, I'm a sinner," admitted Luanne Blanchard, a counter-protestor. "But I need to let them know that God does not hate. A judgement is reserved for God and God alone. It says it all throughout the Bible. If they would read the Bible, instead of picking out parts and making their supposed cause, they would know that... They're brainwashed. I'm sorry."

Robert Dillon, a counter-protestor and a student at Socastee High School says Westboro's presence brought students at his school together this week.

"In school, people were like, no one was judging anyone. Today everyone was together... everyone was one group of people. It didn't matter what race you were or what sexual orientation or anything. We were one human race. We were together," said Dillon.

Despite some of the controversial messages and many people's strong feelings, overall, Friday's protest were calm and without incident.

At all the protests, police officers were on hand to watch over and make sure things didn't get out of hand.

Neither the protestors nor the counter-protestors were allowed on school grounds.