News & Politics

Westboro Baptist Church Announces Plans to Picket Outside Sidwell Friends School

A Westboro Baptist Church member, left, appears to like what he sees during a 2014 demonstration. Photograph by Flickr user Jordan Uhl.

Members of the Westboro Baptist Church, a fringe organization famous for its virulently homophobic and anti-Semitic demonstrations, plan to assemble outside Sidwell Friends School on November 11, according to an email sent to students’ parents on Wednesday.

Westboro, based in Topeka, Kansas, is believed to have fewer than 40 members—nearly all of whom are related to late founder Fred Phelps—but routinely garners outsize attention for its activities due to their flamboyant messages that are often delivered at high-profile locations. The group is perhaps best known for the flashy, but vulgar, signs it parades outside military funerals because it believes the United States is being divinely punished for its tolerance of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.

A Westboro press release issued October 26 states the group plans to assemble outside Sidwell at 7:15 AM on November 11, also known as Veterans’ Day, in time for students to arrive. Many Sidwell students are the children of high-ranking politicians, including President Obama‘s daughters and Vice President Joe Biden‘s grandchildren. Westboro previously targeted Sidwell in 2009, with a group of students and teachers responding with a silent counterprotest.

“The group’s ideology is antithetical to the testimonies on equality and community and violates the central Quaker tenant that the divine is present in each person,” Bryan Garman, the Sidwell’s head of school, writes in the email sent to parents.

Garman also alerted students of Westboro’s intentions during a school meeting Wednesday, and welcomed them to organize a response.

The politics of they, the politics of hatred, the politics of dehumanization are the cornerstone of the Westboro Baptist Church, but this vile dogma can unfortunately be found in hearts and heads throughout the country,” he said. “Several students have suggested that they might want to organize a protest against WBC. I stand ready to support you and will be in the Meeting Room at lunch this Thursday and Friday should anyone want to discuss the topic.”

Westboro last targeted a DC high school in June 2014, when some of its members descended on Wilson High School after the school’s then-principal Pete Cahall, announced he is gay. The church’s demonstration that day flamed out after being vastly outnumbered by hundreds of students who turned out in support of Cahall.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.