Protesters with Westboro Baptist Church seen in this file photo. 
Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

NEW FINDINGS: Atlanta colleges prepare for commencement protests by Westboro Baptist

Three historically black colleges and universities near downtown Atlanta are taking extra security measures to prepare for protests of its upcoming commencement ceremonies by a Kansas-based outfit described as a hate group.

The Westboro Baptist Church said on its website it plans to picket, protest and preach at the ceremonies for Clark Atlanta University and Morehouse and Spelman colleges. Westboro said in news releases it was demonstrating against recent policies by Morehouse and Spelman to admit transgender students and a reverend scheduled to participate at Clark Atlanta’s ceremony. The releases used slurs to identify gays and lesbians and incorrectly stated former President Barack Obama will speak at Morehouse’s ceremony Sunday morning.

Friends, family, and graduates fill Century Campus during the 134th commencement exercises at Morehouse College In Atlanta GA Sunday, May 20, 2018.  
Photo: STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

Westboro has picketed everything from gay pride parades to the funerals of slain U.S. soldiers. It threatened to picket the funerals of children and educators killed in the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The Southern Poverty Law Center has called Westboro a hate group.

Atlanta Police Department spokesman Carlos Campos said it’s aware of Westboro’s plans and “are acting accordingly.” 

>> READ | Morehouse approves transgender student enrollment policy

Spelman is the only one of the three private schools that has scheduled its commencement off campus. The college sent a message to students and parents Tuesday saying it will have additional security to ensure its commencement Sunday afternoon proceeds without incident. It urged attendees to carry identification and reminded them that posters, signs and balloons are prohibited.

May 21, 2017, College Park: Graduates join hands for an opening prayer during the Spelman College 2017 Commencement Ceremony at the Georgia International Convention Center on Sunday, May 21, 2017, in College Park. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton

“Spelman's priority is the safety of our students, faculty, staff and guests joining us for the Commencement activities,” spokeswoman Joyce Davis said in a statement. “We have updated our community about the College's security procedures and are collaborating with officials at the Georgia International Convention Center and law enforcement to be proactive in developing a plan that will allow our constituents to enjoy this celebratory time.”

>> RELATED | Who’s speaking at 2019 metro Atlanta commencement ceremonies

Morehouse police Chief Valerie Dalton said in a statement Wednesday afternoon it’s working with Atlanta police and added protesters will not be allowed on campus. 

5/22/17 - Atlanta - Graduates walk from the student center to the stadium for graduation. Clark Atlanta University's Panther Stadium was the site of their 28th annual Commencement. Businessman William Pickard gave the commencement address. Rev. Jesse Jackson, who received an honorary degree, also spoke. Panther Stadium, BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com

Clark Atlanta said in a statement Wednesday night it has taken extra security measures and also working with city police. Its commencement is set for Monday morning.

“CAU is ‘careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone’ and to respond in love,” it said in its statement.

A telephone call to Westboro went unanswered Wednesday.

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