Westboro Baptist Church Pickets RHS
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Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) Protesters gathered outside of RHS the morning of Nov. 10; with WBC members on the sidewalk closest to RHS, and counter protesters standing on the other side of Baltimore road. Both sides acted relatively peacefully: holding signs, singing songs and speaking to each other.
WBC is a Kansas-based unaffiliated Baptist church that has traveled to DC to protest at several sites, including RHS, Winston Churchill HS and Arlington Cemetery.
WBC announced Nov. 1 that they planned to picket RHS from 7:10 to 7:45 a.m. The group tweeted at the Rampage twitter account (@RampageOnline) and the news soon spread throughout the RHS community.
Member of WBC Rebekah Phelps-Roper said, “We are here to preach repentance to some children in a nation who don’t get very much teaching on the Lord. So, we have to teach them what God’s word says because their parents and their leaders – political, educational – they’re not doing the job. So the kids are turning out to be violent, brute beasts, that are ignorant of God’s love.”
Police officers outnumbered protestors on both sides, with over 20 officers in the area at one point.
Police Sergeant Peter Davidov said, “Our role here is to make sure everyone gets a chance to exercise their first amendment rights in a lawful manner … I believe we were contacted by Westboro Baptist then once they contacted us, we contacted all the involved parties, including the school.”
In the days prior to the protests, Principal Billie-Jean Bensen urged students, staff and community members to stay peaceful and silent against the protestors. Bensen had discussed the event with staff, the SGA, security and the Principal of Winston Churchill HS in order to ensure consistency in response.
In a meeting with Rampage staff prior to the protests, Bensen said, “We’ve got a plan and the bottom line is we want to completely ignore them. This group is not worth our time and effort. So we’re going to go on with school inside as if it’s a typical boring Tuesday.”
Despite Bensen’s advice, some parents and community members took to social media to organize a counter protest.
SGA President Adam Sarsony said, “I think the [Facebook] event had good intentions, but that many of the parents in that group are misinformed about what a WBC picketing actually entails, and that the kind of response that many of those parents are advocating would run contrary to our goals as a school and community.”
Twinbrook Baptist Church, which neighbors RHS, aimed to show their support for RHS during the protests by providing beverages and an opportunity to talk and pray about the event. They also flew rainbow banners from the second story windows in a prominent display of inclusion of the LGBT community.
“This has been a great opportunity to show the love…” Twinbrook Baptist Church Pastor Jill McCrory said. “I actually got the first notice that this was happening from [SAGA (Sexuality and Gender Acceptance club)], so I went to a meeting with Clergy here in Rockville and they decided to come to the church. Then we decided to do some banners because that’s the biggest thing to be seen. I was like ‘How can I wrap my church in a rainbow flag somehow?’ and so those are tablecloths,” McCrory continued.
The SGA and SAGA club collaborated to bring students together in solidarity through internal school responses. The SGA made a banner for students and faculty to sign and agree to practice tolerance, while SAGA club constructed a heart surrounded by ally pledges, which students signed earlier in the week. Students also displayed unity by wearing orange to school.
“I just want everyone in the RHS community to understand that this school is and always will be a safe place for all students and no hate group will even be able to change that,” Sarsony said.