Decades after serving in the Vietnam War, Fremont veteran Dale Finney saw another battle line drawn.
This time it was on Sunday — and among civilians — as members of Westboro Baptist Church and counter-protesters stood across from each other near three local churches.
Westboro has been known for picketing at veterans’ funerals. The Westboro website says it stages demonstrations opposing the homosexual lifestyle and that America has shown that it is God’s enemy.
“Now,” the website states, “God is America’s enemy” which it claims has resulted in many dead U.S. soldiers and huge national debt.
“I do believe in their right to protest,” Finney said, “But I do believe they got the message that they’re not welcome in Fremont. … I don’t appreciate any demonstration against the military. I know that’s not all they’re protesting against, but I feel if you don’t want to be an American and support us, go someplace else.”
Westboro picketers went to three churches — Evangelical Free, Fremont Alliance and Fremont Nazarene, which puzzled leaders of these congregations.
“We have no idea why this group is protesting at our church, nor do we know why they will be protesting at two other churches in Fremont this Sunday as well,” stated Evangelical Free Church leaders in an email to parishioners. “There seems to be no discernible connection between the three churches, nor have we been given any reason as to why any of the three churches are being protested.”
Like other pastors, the Rev. Tom Nevius of Fremont Alliance asked church members not to engage the protesters in any way and planned to have regularly scheduled services.
“We’re going to pray for them as we walk by and come into church,” Nevius told the Tribune on Thursday. “We’re going to have a time of fellowship, sing songs of praise to our God, open the Scriptures and read and study the Bible together, and have a cup of coffee and go home.”
Fremont Police set up barricades and manned the area at each church. Some church members also stood outside to help make sure order ensued.
As per their website schedule, Westboro members went to each of the three churches toting signs with statements such as: “God hates sin enablers,” “Go & Sin No More” or “Jesus will return in wrath.” Other signs were directed at the homosexual community with statements: “Christians caused F** marriage” or “God still hates f*** .”
One young man, who was a counter protester, stood along Lincoln Avenue near the Evangelical Free Church with a sign telling Westboro members not to protest.
Another young man, who may have mistakenly thought the man with the sign was a Westboro picketer, spoke in a low voice as he made derogatory comments and an obscene hand gesture at him.
“I guess he can’t read signs,” the counter protester said with a shrug and a smile.
Across the street from Fremont Alliance, Westboro members held signs and two of the women protesters sang loudly along with songs broadcast via a loudspeaker.
The protesters stood on the sidewalk near the Fremont High School parking lot, where Alliance church members often park to go to services at the church.
Members with children hurried silently past the protesters. One woman clutched her son close to her as they passed by.
Wearing a bright yellow vest, George Nechodomu smiled as he helped control traffic and escort fellow members across Lincoln Avenue and onto church grounds.
How was Nechodomu doing?
“Wonderful,” he said. “I get to greet a lot of people coming to church this morning.”
Westboro protesters also gathered across a street from the Fremont Nazarene Church, where earlier in the week the Rev. Aaron Horton, lead pastor, told the Tribune, “Our role is not to judge anyone, but rather to share the restoration power of Jesus Christ.”
Nazarene Church members watched Westboro protesters from a distance.
Across the roadway, a group of about 40 counter protestors waved signs.
“This is incredible,” said Fremonter Chris Marsh, a counter protest organizer. “They (counter protesters) are braving the cold weather to do this.”
Temperatures ranged between 39 and 42 degrees and a cold wind blew. American flags fluttered and snapped in the wind at the counter protest site.
Jerri Nielsen of Fremont said she and Marsh decided to stage the counter protest because, “Hate’s not accepted in our town.
“Anybody and everybody is welcome in our town,” Nielsen said. “There’s too much hate in the world already.”
So are even Westboro people welcome?
“They’re welcome in our town and we love them just the same as everybody else. Everybody is welcome in our town — but this behavior, the hatred — is not welcome,” Nielsen said.
Marsh and about 25 counter protesters had gathered on Saturday afternoon at Milady Coffeehouse in downtown Fremont to plan the anti-hate rally.
There, attendees talked about making signs and bringing doughnuts while a Fremont police officer and detective stood nearby listening to the conversation.
Afterward, Marsh said he’d instructed would-be participants not to bring signs with hateful messages.
“I don’t feel this community is ready for this hate-filled drama,” he said. “We want to promote peace, love and unity.”
Marsh and Nielsen were pleased with the counter protesters who attended.
“We had a lot more people than we figured show up,” Nielsen said. “Members of the community pulled together.”
Finney, who was part of a mechanized infantry unit and saw many battles in Vietnam, also appreciated the response by community members.
“I was very touched by the support that I got,” he said.
Finney said he stood at the protest site with his thumb down and that many motorists drove by waving and giving him the “thumbs up.”
He also said he appreciated the police force for being at the sites and the counter protesters, whom he found to be well behaved.
Finney said he tried to talk with the Westboro protesters.
“They said, ‘We’re just protesting,’” Finney said. “They did not want to discuss anything.”
Finney, who’s also a Christian, said he attends church to serve God not as a political activity.
“I believe church should be about Christ,” he said.
In his email to parishioners, Nevius ended by encouraging members to attend church on Sunday and do something else:
“I am asking you to pray for our church, as well as the other churches, that the name of Christ would be exalted and that which was meant for evil would turn out to be for good,” he wrote. “Let’s show the world our love for God and for one another.”
Former state Sen. Matt Connealy was appointed to join ESU #2’s Board of Education during the board’s Feb. 19 meeting.
Connealy replaces Dean Chase, the board’s former vice president, whose resignation was announced at last month’s meeting. During that meeting, the board voted to name George Robertson as the new vice president. Connealy will be taking a title as Board Member.
“Right now, my recommendation is to appoint Mr. Connealy mainly because he’s our guy,” Administrator Ted DeTurk told the board. “He’s from the area and he’s well known and I think he’s well respected. He’ll do a great job.”
Connealy was the only candidate interested in filling the vacancy and his appointment was unanimously approved by the board. He will serve out the rest of Chase’s term, which will take him through December. At that point, Connealy will have to be elected into the position if he wants to continue serving.
It wouldn’t be Connealy’s first campaign. He was elected to the state legislature in 1998 and was re-elected in 2002. The Democrat launched an unsuccessful bid for Congress against Republican U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry in 2004.
At Monday’s board meeting, Connealy made no promises that he would launch another campaign to regain his seat when his appointed term ends.
“I may not run again, we’ll see,” he told the board. “I’ve run for a lot of offices and don’t really care to anymore, but we’ll see.”
Connealy comes from a farming background in rural Decatur. After his stint in the state legislature, he served as the executive director of the Nebraska Democratic Party from 2007 to 2009. In a phone interview with the Fremont Tribune, he expressed a desire to maintain ESU #2’s quality of work.
“I’ve always been very supportive of the work that educational service units do in Nebraska, bringing high quality services to schools, so that no matter what the size of the school or where they are, they can share resources and really serve the students,” He said. “[E.S.U. 2]’s been a well-managed educational service unit. I want to make sure that continues.”
At Monday’s meeting, the board also announced that it had hired Dr. Ashley Rasmusen to replace Cecilia Neiman as a professional developer, and Karen Vonz as a professional developer and social services liaison.
Two men were arrested on assault charges following two separate incidents of fighting in Downtown Fremont over the weekend.
The first incident occurred on Saturday at approximately 11 p.m. where FPD officers were dispatched to a physical fight disturbance at a business in the 300 block of north Main Street.
According to the Fremont Police Department, while responding to the disturbance officers learned that there had been a fight inside the business when a patron was asked to leave due to his belligerent behavior.
After being asked to leave, the patron assaulted an employee and another customer who tried to intervene.
As a result of the investigation James D. Austell, 31, of North Bend was arrested and charged with 3rd Degree assault, disturbing the peace, and disorderly conduct.
Just a few hours later, Fremont Police were called back to the business on North Main Street after a man was reported to be injured in the street.
According to the Fremont Police Department, on Sunday at approximately 1:15 a.m. officers responded to a report of an injured man in the street in the 300 block of north Main Street.
Upon arriving at the scene officers found the victim, a 29-year-old Fremont man, with multiple injuries to his head and face.
According to FPD Lieutenant Ed Watts, officers at the scene reported that the victim had injuries including missing teeth, cuts on his head requiring stitches and a broken nose.
The victim was then transported to Fremont Health Medical Center for medical treatment.
Witnesses told police that the man had been assaulted and were able to direct officers to the suspect who was still at the scene.
The suspect was identified as Jeremy A. Brown, 33, of Salem, Neb., who was arrested and charged with 1st degree assault and disorderly conduct.
According to the Fremont Police Department, officers at the scene also learned that the victim had been assaulted after he attempted to stop Brown from harassing a female acquaintance.