PICKETING OF UW BY WESTBORO BAPTIST CHURCH
Statement of University of Wyoming President Philip L. Dubois (Delivered by Vice President for Academic Affairs Thomas Buchanan)
April 5, 1999 -- The University of Wyoming is no stranger to the Westboro Baptist Church. They brought their message of hate to the UW campus in 1996, and we watched in horror as church members paraded their bigotry at the funeral of Matthew Shepard, one of our students, one of our own.
Samuel Johnson wrote, "patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel." Today, one might argue that the law can be the last refuge of a bigot. The Constitution of the United States guarantees the freedoms of expression and assembly. Today, members of the Westboro Baptist Church wrap themselves in the Constitution and exercise their rights of expression and assembly here, at the Albany County Courthouse, and at the University of Wyoming.
As a political scientist, as an educator, and as president of the University of Wyoming, I embrace the First Amendment to the Constitution as a guarantor of our own academic freedom. And, so, with highest regard for the Constitution, we allow members of the Westboro Baptist Church to assemble and express themselves on our campus. While I embrace the Constitution, I do so in this case with genuine disgust for the message expressed.
Mayor Williams and I have called on members of the University and Laramie communities to ignore the pickets of the Westboro Baptist Church. I want to ensure that no one interprets our silence as an act of tacit agreement with their message. Nothing could be further from the truth. We made a conscious decision not to engage the Westboro Baptist Church in debate or to match their sound and fury which, as Shakespeare wrote, signify nothing.
The University of Wyoming has been in a period of mourning and loss since last October when Matthew Shepard's broken body gave up his life. Members of the Westboro Baptist Church, like carrion crows, feed on grief and rage, growing stronger through confrontation. Our grief is our own; our rage is our own. We are determined not to offer up our emotions to the Westboro Baptist Church. By denying them the nourishment of our feelings, we hope to starve them and weaken their message of hate.
This morning, on another part of this campus, the Westboro Baptist Church celebrates hate and intolerance. This morning, here, in the Wyoming Union, we celebrate life and diversity. That is what we believe; that is who we are.
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