Searsport District High School senior Zach Parker may have got more than he bargained for when he decided he didn’t want the topic of his government class project to be boring.

More precisely, Parker knew he didn’t want to tackle what he saw as overdone themes — he gave “poverty” and “welfare” as two examples — so he hit the Internet looking for an offbeat topic and came upon some headlines about the Westboro Baptist Church, a rabidly anti-gay, anti-Semitic, anti-government church in Topeka, Kan. that has made a name for itself by picketing thousands of events around the country every year.

The group sounded familiar, and as Parker did more searching, he found that WBC had protested at military funerals. He thought of his own uncle in the National Guard, who he said could be deployed overseas next year, and the thought of him being killed in combat was hard to reconcile. The idea of people protesting the funeral was unthinkable.

Part of Parker’s school assignment was to get the word out. He had always wanted to write a bill, but Maine already had a law on the books addressing protests at military funerals, so he took his argument to the federal government, pitching the bill to Sen. Susan Collins and Rep. Michael Michaud, both of whom, Parker said, have expressed interest.

His goal, Parker said, is to “put a barricade” between protesters and military funerals.

To introduce his proposal, he organized a public seminar. Not long after, he received a vitriolic e-mail from WBC principal Shirley Phelps-Roper and subsequently learned that WBC planned to picket his event.

“You must be living in a painful Spiderman movie if you think that you can change or stop God from killing the soldiers, or stop his people from standing on a PUBLIC right of way to help you connect the dots from that wrath from God, fury really that killed and sent to hell your disobedient rebel soldier to your filthy manner of life!” she wrote.

Speaking on Dec. 28, Phelps-Roper confirmed that the church would be sending a “team” of seven to 10 people to protest the event.

“He wants us to come inside, but we stay out on the street because that’s how we roll,” she said.

Speaking mostly in the second person, Phelps-Roper explained the beliefs held by WBC congregants, which are based on a strict reading of the bible and a belief that events like the blizzard that recently swept up the East Coast are evidence of God’s wrath and that the destruction of the world is imminent. When people are injured, Phelps-Roper pulls the headlines and posts them to the “Godsmacks” (as in: God smacks humans in punishment) page of the WBC website.

That day she had posted one from Maine — the Dec. 28 chairlift derailment at Sugarloaf that injured eight people. The incident, she said, reminded her of a horror movie called “Frozen.”

“The only thing was [in ‘Frozen’] he didn’t fall from the chairlift, he jumped,” she said. “Then some wolves got him.”

According to the church’s Web site (, WBC has picketed more than 44,000 events. The picketers travel by bus from Topeka to locations around the country. Phelps-Roper said she would not be among the group that travels to Searsport on Jan. 5 because she had planned to be in Washington, D.C. speaking her mind to Congress about the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Asked if WBC has a compassionate side, Phelps-Roper snapped, “The compassion of God is for the repentant. There is no forgiveness without repentance!”

Parker, who identified himself as a Baptist — he attends Little River Baptist Church in Belfast — decried the agenda of WBC. “As a Baptist myself, I can tell you, this church has no Baptist values whatsoever,” he said.

Asked how he feels about the threatened picket, Parker said he mostly doesn’t want the message of his presentation to be lost because there are protesters outside. As to why they had chosen his event to picket, Parker said he wasn’t entirely sure.

“The only connection I can see is that this specific group protests against people serving in the military because they are a supporting the government, which isn’t biblical,” he said.

On the positive side, Parker said, Maine doesn’t always get to see what’s happening on the national stage. If the protesters show up, he said, local residents will get a glimpse of WBC’s headline-grabbing activities firsthand.

Parker’s seminar will be held at Searsport District High School, located on Mortland Road in Searsport, on Wednesday, Jan. 5 at 6 p.m. For planning purposes, the organizer has asked that prospective attendants RSVP to or (207) 478-7561. However, an RSVP is not required to attend.