Roberts

CHARLESTON -- The West Virginia Chamber of Commerce is doing its part to combat a planned event by a Kansas church known for its anti-gay pickets.

Members of the Westboro Baptist Church from Kansas are supposed to be in Charleston starting April 8. The group's Web site, www.GodHatesFags.com, says picketers plan to march in front of the state Capitol and the University of Charleston on that day.

Steve Roberts, president of the state Chamber, said the Chamber is printing signs to counter the Westboro group.

"We stand with our neighbors, whoever they may be, whatever their beliefs might be and however God may have made them," Roberts said.

Roberts stressed that the Chamber's move to counter the Westboro picket is important to West Virginia and its business climate.

"It's an image thing," he said. "Image and reputation are important to job development.

"While this is an issue reaches people from all walks of life, it also is an issue that is important to West Virginia's business climate because many of us in West Virginia have worked on projects to improve the creativity and diversity of West Virginia, and we want to make sure people from all parts of the creative class know that West Virginia is a welcoming and tolerant home."

Roberts said he's had positive feedback since word of the Westboro picket and the Chamber's plans became known earlier this week.

"We've had very encouraging feedback," Robert said. "We've heard from people in the religious community. We've heard from the largest corporations in the state, from social workers and others expressing thanks for what we are doing."

Roberts said the Chamber isn't trying to create confrontation or bring "unwanted attention to the unwanted visitors."

Roberts said the signs will display a Jewish Menorah, a rainbow and a dove carrying an olive branch.

"The rainbow has a meaning in Old Testament and New Testament theology, as well as its own meaning to the gay community," Roberts said. "A dove carrying an olive branch is also significant in Old and New Testament theology. The symbolism of a dove speaks to deliverance and hope and peace."

The chamber's signs will be available for free to anyone who wants one to display one.

The Chamber's signs will be available at the Chamber offices, located at 1624 Kanawha Blvd. East.

In the days after the April 8 protests, Westboro members also plan to picket at Charleston Catholic High School, Congregation B'nai Jacob, Temple Israel and Sacred Heart Co-Cathedral.

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