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updated: 10/21/2010 5:59 PM

Kansas-based church says it'll protest Buffalo Grove High play

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Members of the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., have lined sidewalks in protest more than 44,000 times over nearly 20 years.

Among their favorite destinations are stagings of "The Laramie Project," which chronicles the 1998 torture and murder of University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard because he was gay.

Buffalo Grove High School got word its production may be the target of a Westboro picket in the 45 minutes leading up to its 7:30 p.m. Saturday night performance.

"They have every right to come here under the First Amendment, and we're doing nothing differently," Principal Carol Burlinski said.

"It's kind of ironic because this project was chosen to emphasize tolerance and understanding."

Westboro Baptist Church, which demonstrates at soldiers' funerals saying God is punishing the West for its acceptance of homosexuality, "engages in daily peaceful sidewalk demonstrations opposing the homosexual lifestyle of soul-damning, nation-destroying filth," according to its website.

Buffalo Grove Police Cmdr. Steve Husak said he's been advised of a possible protest but that no police officers will preemptively be assigned to the high school. Police will respond if called to keep order and make sure the picket stays on public property and doesn't impede travel.

"We don't even know whether it's a large gathering or if it's going to happen at all," Husak said.

Attempts to reach Westboro Baptist Church were unsuccessful.

Burlinski added the high school's police liaison will be patrolling the area.

Buffalo Grove's production of "The Laramie Project" is one of four on Westboro Baptist Church's radar during the next few weeks; members are also encouraged to protest a Liberty, Mo., high school; California State University in Santa Ana, Calif., and a Canadian theater in Edmonton, Alberta.

English teacher Beth Wells, who's directing "The Laramie Project" at Buffalo Grove, said in an e-mail that no formal counterprotest is planned, but that she isn't sure what the students or community will decide what to do. She said many people have expressed interest in wanting to show up and support the play.

"The overwhelming response to this has shown how far we have come since this play first opened 12 years ago, and also speaks to how necessary and relevant the message of this play still is," Wells wrote.

Burlinski said she watched a performance with the sophomore class earlier this week and that she was impressed with their maturity.

"My thought is that our young people really inspire me because their level of tolerance far surpasses what I could ever expect," she said.

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