Westboro Baptist Church Protests at Sidwell Friends


Cold silence from about 100 Sidwell students greeted three women from the Westboro Baptist Church as they protested outside Sidwell Friends School from 7:15 to 8:00 a.m. on November 11. The church’s homophobic chants, colorful signs, and parodies of pop songs, all aspects of the normal Westboro routine, were present at the protest. Unusually, they were not answered by angry shouts from the other side. Instead, Sidwell students formed an imposing line on the front yard of the school, choosing to demonstrate their disapproval of the Westboro Baptist Church with crossed arms, determined stares, and absolute quiet.

WBC member Rebekah Phelps-Roper said the church was protesting at Sidwell “to preach repentance and to preach a little Bible to these children who have been brainwashed by all the leaders of this nation.” Phelps-Roper noted the particular reason for picketing Sidwell is because President Barack Obama’s daughters, Malia and Sasha Obama, attend the school.

Sidwell Friends is a Quaker school and incorporates many Quaker ideals into its curriculum, one of which is the idea of silent, peaceful protest. “[The peaceful protest] encapsulates all of our beliefs, and we didn’t think a vocal protest would be productive,” Sidwell student Claire Walker said.

“We just fundamentally disagree with what they believe in,” said Dylan Greynolds, another Sidwell student. “They are an organization based off of hate and we don’t believe that; we are Sidwell Quakers and believe in peace and all that. We love each other.”

This was another factor in the Westboro Baptist’s decision to picket the school. “[Quaker] is just a false religion,” said Rebekah Phelps-Roper. Abigail Phelps, daughter of the late Fred Phelps, agrees. She believes that Quakers adhere to a “made-up” religion designed by Sidwell’s founders to convince powerful families to pay for their child’s education. Phelps also argued that Quakers are hypocritical in their ideals of pacifism because she believes the right to abortion and the right to gay marriage, both supported by Obama and the Democratic Party, are violent policies.

Veterans Day, the day of the Sidwell protest, carries special weight for the Westboro Baptist Church because the organization often protests at the funerals of U.S. military veterans as part of anti-violence beliefs. After the Sidwell picket wrapped up, the women planned to go to Arlington National Ceremony to protest the Veterans Day memorials and ceremonies happening there.

Members of the Westboro Baptist Church protested outside of Wilson in June 2014 after former Principal Pete Cahall came out as gay during Wilson’s annual Gay Pride Festival. Shirley Phelps-Roper, one of the Westboro members protesting outside of Sidwell today, also participated in the protest against Wilson in 2014. “Your principal, as it turns out, was a raging pervert,” said Phelps-Roper. “He whipped up the student body. The protest was a product of the efforts of that pervert.”

All three Westboro members recalled the Wilson protest as a successful one. They believe the unusually large turnout of gay rights supporters and Cahall supporters at the event helped, rather than hurt, the church’s goal. “The point of this ministry is the same as the Lord Jesus Christ gave the commission; you go out into all the world and preach the gospel,” said Abigail Phelps-Roper. “It’s not our job to change your minds, it’s our job to publish the words. Who cares why [the counter-protesters] are out here? The point is they are here.”

At 8 a.m. the protesters packed up for Arlington and the Sidwell students headed off to class for the day.

Both Walker and Greynolds believe that Sidwell does a good job of supporting LGBTQ students. “[Sidwell] has a very open community,” said Greynolds. “Everyone feels very comfortable speaking out if they have any concerns. We are very close-knit here.”