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Church to protest Corona del Mar High’s ‘Rent’

A Kansas-based church known for celebrating at the funerals of American soldiers killed in war plans to protest the staging of the musical “Rent” at an Orange County high school Friday.

The Westboro Baptist Church intends to picket at Corona del Mar High as classes let out and as audience members arrive for the play. Counter-protesters also plan to attend.

The staging of “Rent,” a story of struggling artists in New York City including characters who are gay and diagnosed with AIDS, has created months of controversy at the affluent school. It was nearly canceled, a fact cited in an ACLU lawsuit against the district alleging that the campus is homophobic and sexist.

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Westboro Baptist Church believes end times are imminent and President Obama is the antichrist, said Shirley Phelps-Roper, daughter of the church’s leader. The church has been named a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Phelps-Roper said eight people will travel to California to participate in the protest.

The organization announced the planned protest on its website earlier this month, describing the play as a “lying, maudlin piece of propaganda” and saying that those who “enable” such projects are “worthy of death.”

“God hates [gay people] and [their] enablers; ergo, God hates Corona del Mar High School!” the website said.

Church members show up at soldiers’ funerals, contending that they are purposefully killed by God because America is accepting of homosexuality.

The Orange County Equality Coalition, which supports gay and lesbian rights, plans to support the teenage actors.

“These courageous students have really been through the wringer,” said B.J. Davis, chairwoman of the coalition’s board. “It’s our way of trying to stand up and say your community stands behind you.”

Newport Beach police are developing staffing plans.

The controversy may have resulted in one bright spot: Tickets reportedly are selling briskly. The play opens today.

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seema.mehta@latimes.com


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