Hurricane Katrina devastated the city of New Orleans when it occurred in 2005. Though the city has mostly recovered, many still feel the effects of the storm over a decade later. Despite the great hardship faced by many in the New Orleans area, a religious group blames Katrina on the city’s apparently sinful lifestyle.

Several members of the Westboro Baptist Church protested Loyola University of New Orleans Thursday, citing grievances such as acceptance of homosexuality and the teaching of evolution. The impending protest quickly drew the attention of the Loyola community. Loyola alumni Jared Mintz and Tony Stancampiano created a counter-protest event on Facebook and over 300 people checked in to the event.

The Westboro Baptist Church, based out of Topeka, KS, is widely considered to be a hate group. They are known for their signs containing homophobic slogans. They also gained notoriety for their anti-troop stance, and held protests at several military funerals.

“This city saw Katrina,” said Shirley Phelps-Roper, a prominent member of the Westboro Baptist Church. “They didn’t do one thing to change their miserable, disobedient, rebellious ways. There is a standard. God says one man, one woman, one lifetime. That’s not what this country is doing. We’re here to warn the living: if you don’t repent and put away your proud sin, you’re gonna go to Hell with all those who perished in Katrina.”

Although only a handful of Westboro Baptist Church members showed up, hundreds of Loyola students and alumni, as well as other members of the New Orleans community, came to counter-protest. John Christopher Brown attended the counter-protest  wearing a sign saying “God loves figs,” and handed out fresh figs to counteract the notorious slogan of the Westboro Baptist Church “God hates f*gs.”

“They claim to be a church, but they’re not really a church. They’re a hate group,” Brown said. “I’m a scientist, so I believe in truth and facts, not platitudes, slogans, and empty promises.”

During the protest, Phelps-Roper held up signs and played Westboro Baptist Church themed parodies of popular songs through a loudspeaker and spoke to the crowd. However, Loyola alumnus Keefer Font parked his motorcycle next to Phelps-Roper and constantly revved the engine, drowning out both her words and her music.

“I saw the tailgate thing on Facebook and I was like, ‘I gotta go piss them off with the bike,’” Font said. “I think everyone has a right to choose whatever the f*ck they please. For them to show up and tell us that Loyola is a f*g university is obscene and horrible. Everyone has the right to choose.

The Westboro Baptist Church also came to New Orleans to protest at Herzing University-New Orleans and the 2018 National Alliance on Mental Illness Convention.

“There is no human strategy that will fix the ‘mental illness crisis’ – it is a curse that God Almighty has poured out on this deeply corrupt nation,” the Westboro Baptist Church said in a press release.

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