Friday morning at 8 a.m., at a time when you would usually be hard-pressed to find many students awake on campus, over a hundred students, faculty and community members gathered on the front lawn at Hillel to make a united stand for tolerance. When word first reached campus that the gay-hating, Jew-hating, America-hating zealots of Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church were coming here to protest, there was an immediate sense that Stanford must come together to counter their hatred. And counter is exactly what we did–in such great force that the handful of Westboro protesters looked even more pathetic by contrast.
In our first statement of the new editorial volume, the Editorial Board would like to commend all of those who came together on Friday to show that diversity and tolerance are among Stanford’s highest values. In the face of the Phelps clan’s animosity, the different segments of the Stanford community–gay and straight, Catholic and Protestant, Jew and Gentile, etc.–came together to reinforce the unity of the University. And in traditional Stanford style, we met hatred not with additional hatred, but with camaraderie, song and positive celebration. It was a proud moment for the campus.
Even now, it is unclear exactly what the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) was thinking in coming to campus in the first place. Perhaps they sincerely thought that they could have an effect on students’ thinking and round up a few converts. Or maybe they just hoped that they could incite the campus to impede on their rights, thus allowing them to file a lawsuit to raise money for future protests. Whatever the case, their efforts failed to attract any new support and instead backfired to such a degree that members of the LGBT community were brought together in solidarity with representatives of campus religious groups. The outcome of the protest was one of the most positive expressions of commonality we’ve seen on campus since we upset USC.
The term “commonality” can be accurately used in reference to the Stanford community, not to be confused with “conformity,” the ideal which the WBC flock seems to hold up as the will of God. It makes sense, really, that a place like Stanford should attract the ire of an organization like WBC–whereas Stanford, like many universities, works hard to embrace diversity of belief, thought and lifestyle, Fred Phelps and the rest of WBC see this kind of diversity as an affront to their absolutist worldview. Their hatred is born out of the belief that they have a perfect understanding of what God wants, and thus how the world should be. It is a view that stands in philosophical opposition to the principles of a modern university, in which ideas and ideals alike are evaluated with open skepticism, and in which there is often no single correct answer. In standing up against the zealotry and rigidness of the WBC clan, the Stanford community showed the world that, though we may often disagree with each other, we can still come together for each other.