The latest battle in the culture wars is being waged on the unlikeliest of battlefields: Seattle's University District Farmers Market at Northeast 50th Street and University Way.

In an e-mail to market staff and vendors last week, Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance director Chris Curtis solicited advice for dealing with a group of apparent "religious zealot[s]" who, according to Curtis, have been harassing shoppers and vendors at the market over the last several weekends. "They preach endlessly about sin and admonish all market shoppers as 'sinners,'" Curtis wrote in his e-mail. "They are calling more and more shoppers 'homos' and being more and more obnoxious every week."

According to vendors and staff at the market, the cadre of religious protestors—a group of white men in their 20s and 30s, wearing sweatshirts that read "Fear God" and "Follow Jesus" and T-shirts with the word "Homo" crossed out—began showing up on Saturday, April 25, warning market shoppers about their futures in the fires of hell, disrupting business, and driving customers away.

On May 2, things reportedly got so bad that market managers called police three times, only to be told that the protesters were practicing their freedom of speech. "The police came and told them they couldn't use their amplification, and that's about all they can do legally," University District Farmers Market manager Karen Kerschner says.

"They call themselves Christian people, and they're being really loud and obnoxious," says one vendor, who asked not to be named. "I myself am a Christian, but not that kind."

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Last Saturday, May 9, police cars circled past the market every 15 minutes or so, but the mysterious group of Bible-thumpers was nowhere to be seen. Market management is hoping they won't be back.

It remains unclear whether the group is affiliated with any church or why it targeted the University District market, which does not appear to be any gayer than your average farmers market. recommended