By John Peragine
NEWTON, N.C., May 27 (Reuters) - More than 1,000 people on Sunday protested a small-town North Carolina Baptist minister's sermon calling for gays and lesbians to be locked up behind an electric fence, a fire-and-brimstone speech viewed hundreds of thousands of times on the Internet since given two weeks ago.
Protesters gathered in front of the Justice Center in Newton waving signs with messages such as "Will God judge me for loving or hating?" and "Don't Fence Me In."
Some people dressed in rainbow colors, and entire families chanted "Preach Love Not Hate," angered by comments from Pastor Charles Worley of Providence Road Baptist Church in nearby Maiden during a sermon on May 13.
Worley told his congregation the Bible and God opposed homosexuality and that gay and lesbian people should be fenced in.
"Build a great big large fence 50 or 100 miles long," Worley said in a video of the sermon posted on YouTube by the Catawba Valley Citizens Against Hate.
"Put all the lesbians in there. Fly over and drop some food. Do the same thing with the queers and the homosexuals. Have that fence electrified so they can't get out. You know what, in a few years, they'll die out. You know why? They can't reproduce."
The protest was spurred in part by a video clip of the sermon that has been widely viewed on the Internet.
Organizers said they held the event in Newton, the county seat, to accommodate the large crowd and to have a more visible presence than the church's remote location.
At the church seven miles away, Catawba County Sheriff officers were on hand to prevent the media from entering the church grounds. "The church has requested that all media be restricted, so you will need to leave the property immediately," a deputy told a reporter.
Calls to Providence Road Baptist Church for a statement from Worley or another church representative were not returned.
Sonya Briggs, a dance teacher in Hickory, North Carolina, said a personal connection prompted her to join the peaceful protest.
"My brother, now deceased, lived an alternative lifestyle," she said. "If he was here today, he would have to worry about being targeted and put into a concentration camp."
Other protesters arrived by chartered bus from Asheville, North Carolina, and Virginia and Maryland, according to organizer Laura Tipton.
"Our message is about love and tolerance," she said.
A group of about 20 people who supported Worley's message stood on the other side of the road and had little interaction with those denouncing his sermon.
Reverend Billy Ball from Faith Baptist Church in Primrose, Georgia, said Worley had every right to speak his mind. But the fellow minister was critical of Worley's absence from the protest.
"Worley was told by his lawyers not to attend," Ball said. "I believe this is cowardly. If you make a statement such as he did you should defend it."
Members of Ball's congregation held signs with messages such as "God is why Sodom got fried."
(Editing By Colleen Jenkins and Philip Barbara)
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