A Kansas-based church known for its picketing at the funerals of soldiers says it plans to come to Danvers on Saturday evening.
Members of Westboro Baptist Church plan to stage a picket outside St. John's Prep on Saturday night, where "The Laramie Project" will be performed. The performance tells the story of Matthew Shepard, a gay college who was murdered in Laramie, Wy. in 1998.
The church targets performances with pickets, saying that God hates the United States because of its acceptance of homosexuality.
Shirley Phelps-Roper, a Westboro Church spokeswoman, said that as many as six members of the church plan to picket.
"It's a propaganda piece," Phelps-Roper said in an phone interview from Kansas.
She argued that Shepard was not killed because he was gay and called his death an "awful thing."
"It was about a drug deal that went bad," she said.
It is the second time that St. John's has put on the play. It staged it for the first time 10 years ago.
St. John's Headmaster Edward P. Hardiman and Principal Keith A. Crowley said in an e-mail to the school community on Friday that the production is "a powerful play, and it is also an important teaching tool that gives voice to our community's commitment to justice, tolerance and respect for human dignity."
Pickets outside the "Laramie Project" that "typically been small groups, and the protests have resulted in no public safety concerns," the e-mail from school leaders said.
"We are well aware of the potential for wider interest in the protest, and in an abundance of caution, we will have additional campus safety measures in place," the e-mail stated. "Members of the administration will be on hand at the show."
It is not the first time the church has conducted pickets outside performances of the play in Massachusetts. Phelps-Roper ticked off a list of several other communities where members of the church has picketed outside "Laramie" performances.
There show has become a "must see" performance at high school's and college's across the country and the church said it does not picket at every show. The play was put in last weekend at St. John's too.
"We have tio gingerly pick and choose where we go," Phelps-Roper said.
The church even has a scene in the play where the group's protest outside Shepard's funeral is depicted.
"Every time they do it our signs are on the stage," she said.
Dan Milaschewski is a St. John's senior who plays both Fred Phelps, the Westboro Baptist Church's leader, as well as Rulon Stacey, the CEO of the hospital where Matthew Shepard died.
"Playing both Rulon and Fred is kind of a weird juxtaposition, but I like it," he said in a blog post about the performance. "When I get tired of spewing hate with Fred, I can work on Rulon."