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Radical church is no show at Albany high school theater production

Students, clergy, and community members came out to counter-protest the Westboro Baptist Church, an extremist fringe religious group from Kansas, at Albany High School on Friday, Nov. 20.

The only problem was that the WBC never showed.

\I'm pleased that they are not here, said protester Peter Subers, who came all the way from Salem for the protest. "Maybe they got the the message that Albany does not like their kind of hate."

The protest, which was aimed at the high school's production of The Laramie Project, was scheduled for 45 minutes before the start of the Nov. 20 show. The Laramie Project depicts the story of University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard, who was killed for being homosexual. Westboro Baptist Church leader, Fred Phelps, is depicted in the play after real-life news reports where he and his church protested the death of Shepard in 1998.

The WBC came to Albany in March of 2009 on their way to protest the SUNY Plattsburg production of The Laramie Project, making stops at Albany High School and the SUNY administrative building. Students and local community members came out in protest of the group at the March protest and again came out in support of the students who put on the play.

"As a minister, the gospel is all about love," said Reverend Anthony Green of the First Congregational Church. "To look at what Mr. Phelps is doing is nowhere near that." Green stated that it was a great, positive thing for those who came out to last year's event and to make a positive situation out of such negative message.

"The project that the kids are performing is a positive one and I wanted to show them the support of the faith community," he said.

"The goal is really not about LGBT in general but about diversity and tolerance in general," said Albany High School Theater teacher and Director of The Laramie Project Ward Dals. According to Dals, he has pitched the idea of the students doing the play for four years. When the WBC came to the school and protested last March, it became clear that the students were mature enough to handle the subject matter. "How can you possibly argue that our students are not ready for this," said Dals of the school's reaction of the March protest, "and everyone agreed they are."

The play will run through Sunday, Nov. 22, with a performance on Saturday, Nov. 21 at 7 p.m. and a matinee showing at 3 p.m. on Nov. 21.

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