Jul 222014
 
An image of the official proclamation welcoming Operation Save America to New Orleans was circulated among the group's members online. (via Facebook.com)

An image of the official proclamation welcoming Operation Save America to New Orleans was circulated among the group’s members online. (via Facebook.com)

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu issued an official welcome this week to Operation Save America, an anti-abortion organization that interrupted an Uptown church’s prayer service with its protests on Sunday and had plans to parade the alleged remains of a fetus around Jackson Square in the French Quarter.

The certificate, which is dated July 20, extends Mayor Landrieu’s official recognition to Flip Benham of Operation Save America for “outstanding service to the city of New Orleans,” according to an image of the certificate being shared by the group on members’ Facebook pages. Supporters of the group were enthusiastic about Landrieu’s welcome, with one noting that “This is a first!”

Benham, director of Operation Save America, was found guilty of stalking in North Carolina in 2011 for distributing “Wanted” posters featuring the name and photo of a Charlotte abortion doctor, and sentenced to 18 months probation. A local organizer for the group, Pastor Dale Sochia of King Jesus Ministries in Boutte, told the New Orleans Advocate that they would be holding a funeral procession in Jackson Square on Tuesday featuring an open casket containing a “a real aborted baby.”

The mayor’s office on Monday downplayed the significance of the certificate.

“It is routine for the City to provide standard proclamations to visiting non-profits, faith-based organizations and conventions that request them,” according to an email from Tyler Gamble, a spokesman for Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s office. “As this group exercises its constitutional rights, the NOPD is executing a robust security plan to keep the peace.”

The group’s protest efforts have been focused on site of the future Planned Parenthood clinic on South Claiborne Avenue, but on Sunday, they took a different turn when members showed up inside the First Unitarian Universalist Church at Claiborne and Jefferson. The disturbance took place as the congregation was holding a moment of silence for a member of the church who had died the week before, said the Rev. Deanna Vandiver.

“Into that sacred silence, a voice began to speak, and it began to speak about ‘abominations,’ ” Vandiver said. The protesters were shouting that the church was not a true faith, she said. “Literally in our most tender and vulnerable space, religious terrorism began.”

The congregation was stunned at first, unsure what was happening, Vandiver said. She then invited the protesters to stay if they could join or observe the worship service respectfully, and if not, to take their protest outside the building. The congregation began to sing, and church leaders then began to lead the most vocal protesters outside, though a few chose to stay quietly through the remainder of the service.

In an account on their website, Operation Save America trumpeted the act as a victory for their mission in a “synagogue of Satan:”

At the Unitarian Universalist “church” in New Orleans, Deanna Waller, Jay Rogers, Mary Claire, Ken Scott, Russell Hunter, Toby Harman and others presented the truth of the Gospel in this synagogue of Satan. As God would have it, the “church” was filled with students from a “social justice” training school. According to Rev. Flip Benham, OSA National Director, the team presented a “dynamic witness.”

During an open “meditation” time, Deanna shared the Word of the Lord. When the female “pastor” took issue, Deanna reminded her that, “It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones” (Luke 17:2). In violation of their “sacred tenants” of peace and tolerance, Deanna and others were summarily escorted out of the service.

Other saints stayed and dialoged until the conclusion of the service. It created no small stir. The “social justice” candidates ran to the Christians and asked them many questions. Our brethren gave them the reason for the hope that lies within them and defended the faith. Seeds of truth were sown. may the Lord water them in Jesus’ name.

Vandiver said she does not know specifically why the church was targeted. The denomination has a history of supporting pro-choice efforts, gay rights and other causes that Operation Save America opposes, she said, and the church on South Claiborne has specifically been supportive of Planned Parenthood in New Orleans.

“I think we were an easy target, because we’re literally just a few blocks down the road from where they’re building this clinic,” Vandiver said. “But we are not interested in being terrorized. Freedom of speech does not trump freedom of religion.”

In addition to protesting Planned Parenthood sites, Operation Save America is also holding demonstrations outside the homes of providers. A neighbor to one of those homes — who asked that his name be withheld out of concern that the group would target him — said his family has already endured two sessions of protests, with dozens of people holding signs on the sidewalk near his house featuring graphic images that he has done his best to hide from his young children.

“My kids are scared,” the resident said in an interview Monday afternoon. “It’s all these ugly pictures. They’re talking on the loudspeaker. I try to speak to them civilly, and it’s very difficult to do, because they’re looking for a confrontation.”

His requests that they turn down the volume, he said, were met with invective about the abortion provider instead. Ultimately, he said, he simply closed the blinds and turned up the music in the house until the demonstrators left, but the entire street is ready for the ordeal to end.

“It’s not necessarily the issue of abortion that’s frustrating to us,” he said. “It’s just their method of coming and taking over, and forcing us to deal with it.”

Operation Save America described their activities near the provider’s home in a similar fashion to their appearance in the church:

[She] was not home but the message was left. Saints lined her neighborhood streets with signs that revealed the violence of abortion, leafleted the neighborhood to warn the neighborhood that a serial killer was in their midst.

Finally, the neighborhood was encouraged to pray for [her], that she might use her medical skills to save life rather than destroy life. As often happens, the truth caused “trouble” for the community. But who brought the trouble, really? Just like Elijah, OSA members respond, “We have not troubled the neighborhood, but your abortionist neighbor has forsaken the commandments of the Lord and followed after the idol of child sacrifice. Have we become your enemy by telling you the truth?”

At the church, Vandiver said she found it “deeply troubling” that the mayor of New Orleans would issue any sort of endorsement to the tactics being employed by Operation Save America against the city’s residents.

“I find that a questionable act of leadership,” Vandiver said. “There are many beliefs about family planning in this country, but I feel like we have moral consensus about religious terrorism. A sanctuary is a holy space, and religious terrorism not welcome there.”

The resident near the protest site, however, interpreted the mayor’s welcome to the group as a political move.

“It’s a Catholic city. If you come out as staunchly pro-choice or against these activists, it would be difficult for him politically,” the resident said. “Politics is politics. Personally, I’d prefer if he’d tell them to get lost.”

On Monday afternoon, a petition at Change.org was gathering signatures asking Landrieu to rescind his welcome to the group.

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  • Craig

    “It is routine for the City to provide standard proclamations to visiting non-profits, faith-based organizations…As this group exercises its constitutional rights…”

    Perhaps when Westboro comes to town, also exercising their “constitutional rights”, Landrieu can throw them a ticker tape parade.

    • Dogmom13

      I wonder if Mitch realizes that Operation Rescue and the Army of God (several of the attendees are associated with the latter as well) are considered hate groups by a wide variety of human rights organizations.

      • Drew Ward

        Boy when you add this to Landrieu’s adamant refusal to recognise the 40th anniversary of the Upstairs Lounge Fire earlier this year, it sure makes you wonder where he stands in regard to hate groups and their beliefs.

        • NolaMan

          A group protecting babies is a hate group? Wow.

          • http://shannonhubbell.com Shannon Hubbell

            When people infiltrate and disrupt another faith’s house of worship and call it a “synagogue of Satan” I have no problem describing them as a hate group. However you feel about abortion, these people are hateful.

          • Stay Loose

            They claim to protect fetuses. Babies they don’t give a crap about.

          • NolaMan

            That doesn’t make sense. Probably a reference to the fact that being against a forced governmentt welfare nanny state is tantamount to harming children. Obviously the opposite is true in reality. If you’ve ever seen a 3D ultrasound of a “fetus”, you would probably feel some shame.

          • mambocat

            It is the tactics used to achieve a goal, not necessarily the stated beliefs of the group, which makes any organization a hate group. If your objective and practice is to disrupt legal activities, terrorize people in their homes and be disruptive in their church services, etc., the tactics you use and the way you present yourself (sometimes in ADDITION to your stated purpose) qualify a hate group. So if your organization obeys the law, protests and prays outside an abortion clinic and does not harrass, accost, assault or batter people attempting to enter, nor do you interfere with access to the clinic, you are simply protesting. Following the doctor home, laying siege to their home and terrorizing their family and accosting their neighbors is another matter entirely.

        • mambocat

          I saw that in the news, and I’m in Baton Rouge now. I was shocked. I vividly remember that fire. I was a teenager and a man in our neighborhood was one of the victims. It was an horrific act of terrorism.

        • mambocat

          BTW, I properly call it the Upstairs Lounge Arson and Mass Murder. Because that’s what it was.

  • Drew Ward

    You have GOT to be kidding me?!?!

    Did he issue a certificate thanking them for terrorising the residents of Fountainbleau all weekend just because a doctor lives there?

  • donegal_ribbon

    These people are domestic terrorists. I’d appreciate the Mayor addressing this huge gaffe immediately.

  • Angie Peckham

    It appears that Mitch has forgotten who his voting base is.

  • DenonHD8

    Selling his soul for his upcoming Governors bid, Mitch the Sell-Out strikes again! SMDH!!!

  • Topher

    Couldn’t it also just be the kind of “shut up” that sounds like “thank you for your opinion” during polite conversation?

    • nolalily

      It is the job of the Mayor to keep his passive aggressiveness in check.

  • Romulus

    It’s a civil rights issue, so as long as it’s non-violent and respects property, there’s nothing wrong with a little rowdiness and civil disobedience. That’s how you get things done in this world, as the left surely knows.

    • Craig

      You apparently missed the part about them disrupting a church service, at the very least infringing on the constitutional rights of others. There is indeed something wrong with that. But that’s how you marginalize others, as the right surely knows.

    • David Wadleigh

      There is nothing respectful of others or their property rights when you enter a church during a church service, disrupt their mourning for a passed congregant, and terrorize the congregation in their own house of worship. They should have been arrested and jailed. And where was the NOPD on Sunday when this happened?

    • http://shannonhubbell.com Shannon Hubbell

      I don’t think you read the article fully.

    • Sara Elizabeth Derby

      It’s not about their right to protest. It’s about the Mayor’s office THANKING THEM FOR THEIR “SERVICE” TO THE CITY OF NEW ORLEANS.

      • brainmist

        Frankly, even if it were about their right to protest, I could see placing restrictions on actions which prey upon the vulnerability of others. Protests don’t belong at funerals; they don’t belong at religious services, daycares, hospital recovery rooms…. When we see protests in these places, they are far less about communicating information, and far more about inflicting psychological harm for the sake of inflicting psychological harm. Westboro is the worst example of this. Protestors should be offered publicly accessible space, but at the point at which they are harassing vulnerable populations, like the grieving, or the ill, there should be some limit.

    • Ratwind

      Is it ok that these cowardly hatemongers held up pictures of aborted fetuses outside of a class window for young children to be terrorized by? This is a hate group plain an simple. They don’t do what they do for anyone else than themselves and the feeling of superiority it gives them in the otherwise meaningless and pathetic lives.

    • nolalily

      Stalking? Are you kidding me?

  • Drew Ward

    I’d like to see Landrieu sign an invoice billing these idiots for the tens of thousands of dollars in NOPD coverage, security, and city services the taxpayers are being forced to expend on their “outstanding services to the city of New Orleans”!

  • willowhaus

    Let’s remember that these sort of “awards” are routine, and really mean very little in the grand scheme of things. I do not blame the Mayor’s Office for issuing the certificate. What matters now is whether the Mayor will stand up in light of the despicable tactics this group is using in order to get their way. Revoking the certificate would at least send a public message that their behavior is not appreciated.

  • Angelique

    This is bullshit!

  • holly

    thanks for this article. nobody in the nola media holds this mayor accountable for anything. the police force is shrinking and demoralized, the crime rate is not improving, chief serpas has presided over known corruption, city streets are worse than ever and continuing to get worse, street lights are out all over, the insane inequity between residential and commercial and non profit property tax continues, the s&w board is run like a school picnic committee, the list goes on, and all this at a time when the city has never been so financially buoyant. when does the “at-least-he’s-not-nagin” period end?

  • H. J. Bosworth JR.

    This ‘church’ group / terrorist group is creepy and disruptive. Be sure that Mitch was brainwashed in the catholic dogma and cannot or refuses to embrace the thought that the vatican has no proof of a heaven, hell or god. And the brainwashed masses are an easy segment of the population to lead around, lie to and get votes from. I am proud of Deanna for standing up to these rude and pathetic trolls.

    • Ratwind

      He just wants to be governor in a red state. You can’t do that by standing on the side of common people and defending them against the assault from the conservative terrorist machine that runs rampant in this country.

  • daybreaker2

    they view everything as validation though. Being escorted out of a church was somehow validation that theyre true saints and the UU church was somehow physically oppressing them.

    Mitch should be more careful about who he hands out certificates to, though.

    • ChibiZel

      Which doesn’t made any sense at all, they don’t /have/ saints they’re freaking protestant or evangelical or whatever

  • NolaMan

    God bless these people who make a stand for the babies of our country. They are innocent victims of this country’s moral decay. I salute them & the 1st amendment which allows them to express their beliefs. Planned Parenthood could stop dealing in abortion tomorrow & they would never see another protest. Life is the answer, not death. New Orleans has enough bloodshed.

    • OhioGirl

      Regardless of your beliefs, you do NOT actually have a right to enter someone else’s property to declare those beliefs. That’s not what the First Amendment protects. Ignorance may be bliss, but you’re still dumb.

      • NolaMan

        I agree that they should not have done that unless invited in to debate.

    • Penguin

      Dealing in abortion? Two bits says you can’t describe any other services provided by Planned Parenthood, nor can you suggest any other facility that provides said services.

      • NolaMan

        Love your image there. A murdering Communist who stole millions of homes & farms from people & who wanted to lob nuclear bombs at the USA. You’re a great poster child for your cause of death.

        • CWilson

          People always resort to ad hominem attacks when they can’t answer the argument.

        • http://shannonhubbell.com Shannon Hubbell

          I take it you didn’t get the joke in that image?

  • Kathleen

    Rev Flip is a lier. He told me he disagreed with the invasion of the protesters in our UU Church Sunday. He said this wasn’t the way to get people to listen to their message. He is sociopath and a snake.

  • Jeremy Arnold

    I called the mayor’s office at (504)-658-4900 to express my disappointment and to demand that Mitch rescind this proclamation. As an attendee at 1st UUNO, a constituent and a former volunteer and paid canvasser for Mayor Landrieu’s reelection campaign, I feel doubly hurt and offended.

  • http://shannonhubbell.com Shannon Hubbell

    There is so much wrong with all of this, but the one thing that just cracks me up is that these people self-describe as “saints”. Egotistical much?

    • somemetryguy

      The New Testament use of the term “saints” just refers to any believer. I’m sorry that you didn’t know that.

      • http://shannonhubbell.com Shannon Hubbell

        Upon googling I see that varies from sect to sect. I see now that your definition is in line with how Protestants use it. It is not universal however.

      • Penguin

        These are believers. They’re zealots who conveniently adapt the Christ’s teachings to suit their purpose.

  • Elizabeth Bach

    Do they always give criminals these awards? Someone wasn’t thinking. Flip Benham himself admits he’s been arrested “between 50 and 100 times”. No doubt BS but he proclaimed it.

  • Lauren Anderson

    Would the Mayor also issue a proclamation to the KKK or a neo Nazi group? Give me a break. It is not necessary, nor should it be customary, for the Mayor to welcome all who come to our city, irrespective of their intent and demonstrated past history. This group has caused, and will continue to cause considerable harm to the Mayor’s constituents, done out of hatred, not love. It really upsets me to think that this group can now brandish and “endorsement” from our Mayor.

  • North Star

    Sorry but all I hear when I read this is Pennsatucky, from Orange is the New Black, spouting off from betwixt her missing teeth hatred and judgment. I suppose anyone who enjoys that kind of immoral programming will also surely burn in the fires of damnation along with the Unitarians and Planned Parenthood employees. “I’m not crazy, I’m chosen!” Come on New Orleans get it together!

  • CACTUS

    They have right to speak in public but no inside the church…

  • Monroe

    These folks are trying to force their beliefs on Americans. I’m glad to have a discussion, maybe even an argument or debate, but to violate others like they did the Unitarians and the doctor is crossing the line. How are these “Christians” different from the ISSI fundamentalist Muslims that are forcing people in Iraq to convert to Islam?

    • NolaMan

      I don’t agree w/ anyone marching in another “church” & disrupting the proceedings but how is a 1st amendment protest force? It seems that our nanny state forcing taxpayers to fund Planned Parenthood & its death machine force. They should not receive one dollar from the American taxpayer.

      • skinnercitycyclist

        Our “nanny state” forces taxpayers to fund all kinds of things they personally abhor. I myself do not like the level of spending on the military, and i feel we spend too much on roads and not enough on mass transit. Should we defund those things because a minority of taxpayers feel a moral repugnance? I am fine with fully-funded national health care, including contraception and abortion services paid though taxes. If you do not like abortion, don’t have one. If I do not like military spending, I can fight the political fight that would get that reduced, as you can on abortion. But I do not see why YOUR moral compunctions should get such deference form the government where mine are discounted.

        Let’s all pay our taxes and decide in the political arena what for.

  • tigalily

    so domestic terrorists are now heros? wow.

  • penny0314

    It is obvious that both this terrorist group and the mayor are profoundly opposed to the US Constitution, especially the first amendment. As a UU myself, I will understand if this congregation does not take this terrorist group to court, but would recommend they do to stop religious terrorism.

    • NolaMan

      Since terrorism is killing innocent people in pursuit of a political goal, Planned Parenthood fits the definition much more.

    • TheKnowerseeker

      The Democrat mayor probably simply made a mistake, but feel free to stay angry and harass the guy and not vote for him so that his eyes can be opened to just how much his own party hates white men.

  • Christine Shultz Grenat

    Disgusting behavior. Isn’t bullying supposed to be illegal. I cannot believe this Mayor. Horrible.

    • TheKnowerseeker

      This is a war between established Christianity (and Judaism and Islam) versus the new gay agenda, which the agendists started. The Christians are simply pushing back now.

      • skinnercitycyclist

        Yep, ’cause Christians have no history of being pushy before this.

        I like the term “agendists,” by the way. it has a good conspiratorialisticish kind of ring to it.

  • Gina King

    This isn’t my America. Protesting against a church? Inside of another church proclaiming that its ‘satanic’? And in the south? I guess no one remembers the 60′s at all. :/ The last time I heard anyone pulling this kind of stunt everyone who was engaged in it was arrested and thrown in jail for local, state and federal violations of the law. Not reading much but ‘its a Catholic city’ here. I don’t see this going well unless its addressed quickly and properly.

  • SCB

    There is a difference between pro-birth and pro-life. These people have no interest in pro-life. These are the same people that once these children are born, don’t want them fed, clothed or educated. If they want to be pro-life, they need to reevaluate what “life” and “pro” really are and what they mean. Furthermore, the bible is riddled with references to G-d aborting fetuses and ripping children from the womb. So even there own g-d, violates there own tenants. Will they condemn G-d to Satan too?

  • http://bobhiggins.wordpress.com/ Bob Higgins

    The congregants were reported to have gathered around the protestors, “singing a song of love.”

    I would have suggested a percussion piece, played with Louisville Sluggers.

    • skinnercitycyclist

      Maybe “fantasized” a percussion piece? I initially thought more prosaically of bloody noses, but what the congregants did do was the best thing: lead the disturbed people gently from their sanctuary to some place where they could get the help of kindly mental health professionals. We no longer beat the mentally ill in this country.

  • skinnercitycyclist

    How about viability?

  • QuothTheRaven

    The pictures that pro-lifers display are not at all representative of the vast majority of abortions. The bloody horrors they subject people to are either miscarriages or extreme cases normally only done when the life of the mother is at risk. But I guess a picture of a tiny gray thing that you can hold on one fingertip doesn’t have the same shock value. The sheer mendacity and viciousness of the pro-life movement seriously undermines their credibility.