College Students Protest Controversial Church Group

By Chris Cannon 
WTVF NewsChannel 5

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CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. - Several hundred Austin Peay State University students lined College Street in Clarksville Wednesday night to protest a controversial church group. Members of Westboro Baptist Church had plans to be on campus.

The church is known to disagree with homosexuality, even the military. Westboro Baptist is infamous across the country for the "in your face" tactics used to get out the church's message. 

"I had no idea there would be this many people, no idea," said protestor and APSU student Jessica Cazee. 

Cazee was just one of the people who held up signs and yelled at cars as they passed in front of the university's main entrance.

"I was very exciting that we had this big of a turnout," said organizer and APSU student Bryant Smith. 

Members of Westboro Baptist Church decided to protest at the school because Judy Shepard was scheduled to speak there Wednesday night. 

She is the mother of Matthew Shepard, the 21 year old who was beaten to death, tied to a fence and left to die nearly 12 years ago in Laramie, Wyoming. 

A confrontation between the two groups never happened because the members from Westboro Baptist never showed up. 

"I think they're cowards," remarked protestor Sean Baldwin, who made the trip to Clarksville from Nashville. 

"I'm going to tell myself that we scared them away," added Smith. 

The group of student protestors broke up just before 7 p.m. so everyone could go inside for Shepard's speech. 

In 2009, Shepard wrote a book about her son's murder and has traveled the country to talk about her experience. 

Nearly 600 people filled the Clement Building auditorium to hear the story Shepard had to tell. 

She signed copies of her new book "The Meaning of Matthew - My Son's Murder in Laramie, and a World Transformed" afterwards.

Judy Shepard was recently in Washington, D.C. to watch President Barack Obama sign the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. It protects individuals, regardless of the sexual orientation and identification, from violence.

Photo by Margo Amala on Unsplash

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