GENEVA – A lesson of First Amendment rights was demonstrated in all its freezing glory Friday as an anti-abortion protestor with gory posters met with Geneva High School parents who did not want his photos of their children posted on social media.
Temperatures were a blistering 4 degrees – with the wind chill 28 below zero – at 7 a.m. when Matthew Wiersema walked up to the front of Geneva High School with posters of fetuses.
One fetus poster proclaimed, “We have all been here.”
Another poster was of an aborted fetus with the message, “Stop calling child sacrifice choice.”
“True love is opposition to hate,” Wiersema shouted as students walked past him to go into the building. “You must oppose hatred.”
Wiersema was barely situated when Paula Merrington and another woman stood in front of the bloodier poster holding their own signs declaring they love Geneva students. The other woman did not want to be identified.
Merrington, a candidate for Geneva’s 4th Ward in the April 2 consolidated election, said she was there because she objected to Wiersema posting video and images of students online.
Wiersema wears a body camera to document his interactions with students on his Facebook page and on YouTube.
“He’s taking video and I don’t think that’s right,” Merrington said.
“I was there with my student’s safety in mind,” Merrington wrote later in a text message. “They are minors and should not be recorded or harassed on their way to school. Mr. Wiersema has every Constitutional right to be there, as do I.”
Jennifer and John Mesmer also came as a counter to Wiersema’s presence.
“We are here to support the students,” Jennifer Mesmer said. “He was there last week also. I have not talked to the students, but I talked to fellow moms who are disturbed by him.”
Wiersema said he was there to educate students “about the abortion holocaust and preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to them.”
As to why he is in front of this school in particular, Wiersema said it was because, “It has great access to students.”
“I go to different high schools all over. I look for high schools with good access so I can better reach the students and expose evil,” Wiersema said. “You can get good YouTube footage when you’re out like interacting with people, when you can actually talk to them and have conversations with them as opposed to being a mile away out in a public easement where you can’t talk to anybody.”
In a letter to parents, Principal Tom Rogers wrote that school officials were “aware that the protester’s signs are quite graphic and disturbing, and we also acknowledge the concerns that some of you have shared with us about this person’s presence in front of school.”
“Please know that the sidewalk he has occupied is public property; therefore, neither the police nor the GHS administration can require him to leave. The protester is exercising his First Amendment Rights,” Rogers letter stated.
“Some of you have also expressed concerns about the protester videotaping students who engage in conversation with him. We have learned that Illinois law allows a protester to videotape anything within plain view of where they are standing,” Rogers letter stated.
While the school is not making a statement one way or the other about the abortion issue, Rogers’ letter stated that they want “students and staff to consider what an appropriate form of protest looks like and be aware of how some people might have been impacted by these events.”