Westboro Baptist Church says it is planning to stage protests at four Lehigh Valley churches including the Cathedral of St. Catharine of Siena in Allentown on Sunday, according to a press release posted on the group's website.
Protests are planned at two South Whitehall churches - Asbury United Methodist Church and First Baptist.
South Whitehall police Lt. John Christman, aware of the planned Westboro protests, said, "Often they don't show. We're hoping that occurs."
He and township Manager Jon Hammer met with the pastors at the targeted churches in South Whitehall about the matter Tuesday.
If Westboro does picket, authorities will "let them do what they do," he said. "Let them have their protest." However, police would need to take appropriate action if they block roads, he said.
The police department will likely have extra patrol cars and undercover officers on duty, Christman said. He's heard counterprotests may be planned.
The press release says the protests will target "whorehouses masquerading as churches" and lists the following times and locations:
- 8:30 to 9 a.m.: St Paul's Anglican, 2510 Livingston St.
- 9:05 to 9:30 a.m.: Asbury Church, 1533 Springhouse Road
- 9:50 to 10 a.m.: Cathedral of St. Catharine, 210 N. 18th St.
- 10:30 to 11 a.m.: First Baptist Church, 1808 N. 19th St.
First Baptist Church secretary Kim Nemeth said she first learned about the planned protest from police on Tuesday and did research on the group. She said the church is "a little ill at ease" because the church officials don't want church-goers to feel inhibited as they come to worship on Sunday.
When asked why First Baptist may have been targeted, Pastor Chuck Reed said, "We're an old Baptist church and I think they assume we're a liberal church."
But, he said, "We're conservative evangelical. We're not liberal at all."
He said Westboro seemed to hit four corners of theology in the churches they are targeting Sunday -- Baptist, Methodist, Catholic and Anglican.
He said First Baptist Church does not support Westboro's views but is not worried about the visit. "We've been praying for them," Reed said.
"We're a biblically driven, local evangelical church...and we just love people. We worship God as a community."
Kansas-based Westboro is an independent Baptist church known for its extreme opposition to homosexuality and its protests at military funerals.
An online petition to classify Westboro as a hate group and revoke its federal tax-exempt status has gained close to 74,000 signatures.
Matthew Kerr, spokesman for the Diocese of Allentown, said he's aware of the press release but offered no additional comment.