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Westboro Baptist plans protests at Tampa schools, church, Bon Jovi concert

TAMPA — A fundamentalist antigay church is planning to visit Tampa to protest a church, a rock concert and a handful of schools this month.

Westboro Baptist Church, which gained notoriety for protesting at military funerals, listed Plant High School among its April 19 stops on the "picket schedule," school officials warned parents this week.

It also plans to visit Tampa Catholic School, the University of South Florida and Without Walls International Church to protest Catholicism and Judaism. A protest is also scheduled at the St. Pete Times Forum's Bon Jovi concert on April 17.

Referring to Bon Jovi, the church Web site says: "These old fools have had access to millions all over the world for nearly 3 decades, but they have not one time told any of them what God requires of them."

It's unclear why Westboro picked Plant High as a target, but it stated on its Web site that the aim was to protest the Obama administration's openly gay education czar, Kevin Jennings.

"WBC will be in the neighborhood, so we thought we'd just stop on by and tell you about Obama's big plans for teaching your brats at H.B. Plant High School," the Web site states. "After all, they are entitled to the words, too."

Hillsborough County School District spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said officials are not necessarily alarmed by the church's planned visit and expect it will be as uneventful as the last several times members have come to Tampa.

Alonso, Gaither and Newsome high schools and the school district headquarters are among those that have been targeted by the group.

"I have no idea (why)," Cobbe said. "They come and they hold their signs and then they go away. We encourage students not to engage in any kind of counterprotest."

Westboro is known for drumming up publicity by threatening to be somewhere and then either not appearing or appearing with only a few protestors. The church has drawn the most ire for showing up at military funerals with messages like "Thank God for dead soldiers" and has prompted the Supreme Court to consider whether such protests are protected by the First Amendment.

Emily Nipps can be reached at nipps@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8452.

Westboro Baptist plans protests at Tampa schools, church, Bon Jovi concert 04/08/10 [Last modified: Thursday, April 8, 2010 11:18pm]

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