This week, representatives from Wisconsin Christian News, The Salt & Light Brigade Operation Save America and Missionaries to the Preborn gathered in Marshfield for “Church Arise- Operation Save Wisconsin” with the mission to protest abortion.
People from 28 different states attended events, which included a concert, rallies held at Marshfield Mall, and literature canvassing of Marshfield area neighborhoods. Speakers included Coach Dave Daubenmire, who leads the national Salt and Light Brigade, and Rusty Thomas of Texas, the national director of Operation Save America, and Pastor Matt Trewhella of Milwaukee, leader of Missionaries to the Preborn. According to WCN, the purpose of the gathering was to call the churches to rise up and speak, teach and LEAD on the social, cultural and moral issues of our time.
“Many in our nation are falling under a strong delusion on issues related to abortion, the LGBTQP+ agenda and other evils, yet our pastors and churches refuse to speak on these topics for fear of offending some people,” said Rob Pue, publisher of Wisconsin Christian News, and regional director of the Salt and Light Brigade. “We feel that these are vitally important issues that professing Christians need to understand and respond to, rather than ignoring them as our culture spirals downward into depravity and confusion.”
Liz Ablett Gosse, Marshfield resident and mom, said that many local parents were concerned about their kids seeing the images of dismembered babies that were on some of the signs. An active social media post in her local Mom Network Facebook group revealed similar discussion.
“One mom posted on our mom network page to avoid Central Avenue with kids for that reason,” said Gosse. “I know for my own 6 year-old it would have caused a lot of questions and potentially nightmares.”
“We had some complaints about the signs they were showing. People called explained that they weren’t complaining about the stance, but about the graphic nature of the signs and how they were being exposed to children,” said Police Chief Rick Gramza. “We looked into it and we were investigating not the cause of protesting, but the safety aspect to the protesters and kids who may have viewed the graphics.”
The First Amendment protects the right to freedom of speech, peacefully assemble, and protest, but police officers were able to address safety concerns. Specifically, at the intersection of Veterans and Central Avenue, protesters were standing in the median to distribute pamphlets and display signage.
“What we are able to do is limited because of freedom of speech and what the courts have deemed legitimate pertaining to First Amendment rights. Our main goal there is to make sure people are safe and not creating a disturbance. They were a danger to themselves because they were standing in medians and could be visually obstructing traffic,” said Chief Rick Gramza. “We asked them to stay on the sidewalk and explained that they can’t be in the medians. We expressed to them that if we continued to hear concerns, we would talk to them again. We didn’t receive any complaints after that contact.”
“Our main focus is not only safety of the community, but safety of the protesters and nobody being placed into an unsafe situation,” he explained. “We can’t take a stance either against or in support of what they are saying, although complaints were received regarding the graphic visual content of the message.”
Later, the protesters were reported outside of Marshfield High School during the school bus transfer time after school.
“By the time we received that complaint and drove over to the school, the protesters were gone,” said Chief Gramza, adding that if the signs were exposing children to graphic images, he would have asked them to respectfully consider taking them down, but ultimately cannot do much legally, even under Wisconsin State Statute 948, which aims to protect children from viewing certain imagery.
Gramza personally hopes that protesters consider the implications of using certain imagery.
“In my opinion, there’s a challenge because they are personally trying to send a message that abortion is bad, but then we were receiving complaints about the images in the message that they are delivering,” said Gramza. “The question then becomes ‘are you fighting the first amendment or are you fighting abortion?’ It gets blurred.”
When asked about the use of graphic imagery on some of the signage, Pue equated abortion to the holocaust of the modern era.
“People must see the results of baby murder,” he said. “The images are used to wake people up to what we are allowing to happen in our nation, under our watch…We should all be horrified and outraged by what we are allowing to happen to the most precious and innocent of all: premature babies, being ‘legally murdered’ daily in our nation.”
Gosse, who works with at-risk youth part time, took to Facebook to express her opinions on the rally and protests.
“While I believe wholeheartedly in the sanctity of the unborn and the limitless value they hold, I also believe God loves deeply people on all sides of the abortion debate,” she wrote. “I don’t think what took place today accurately portrayed Jesus or His followers. My heart breaks for the people repulsed by Christianity today as a result of the protest. It’s these types of things that kept me away from Christianity for the early part of my life.”
She added that though her experience is limited, she has never seen someone’s mind changed on abortion as a result of a graphic sign or protest.
“I have however seen people’s mind’s changed on this topic as a result of relationships with genuine Christ followers. In John 4, Jesus doesn’t change the Samaritan woman’s life exposing her past or giving graphic details of it, He simply meets her where she’s at,” she wrote. “To anyone involved in the protest or rally today, I would love to sit down and have coffee with you (my treat!!) to understand your point of view better. I believe you had the best of intentions and want to understand better why you thought this would be effective. Perhaps we can find unity in the body of Christ instead of more divisions.”
Gosse said one protester has already agreed to a coffee meeting.
Pue is happy with how the event went in Marshfield.
“Overall the response was very positive,” he said. “I received many phone calls from those who received information packages hand-delivered to their homes during the day Thursday. All were very positive and all thanked me for the materials, which was included printed information as well as educational DVDs.”
Some residents questioned why the group was able to rent a space in the Marshfield Mall, something that management was able to explain.
“We do not endorse any political party or any stance, we just provide a rented space for them to have their event or offices,” said Mall Manager Bethany Gosar. “As long as it’s nothing illegal, our space is always open for people to host their event or have their business. As long as it does not affect the rest of the mall, what they do with the space that they rent is up to them.”
The “Church Arise- Operation Save Wisconsin” event continues this weekend in Milwaukee.
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