This story was updated at 10 a.m. March 27.
It was a standoff on either side of Silver Hill Road outside Suitland High School on Tuesday.
On one side stood about 10 protesters from the Topeka, Kan.-based Westboro Baptist Church holding signs using derogatory terms about homosexuals and “Divorce + Remarriage = Adultery.”
On the other side were pastors and leaders from churches throughout Prince George’s County greeting students as they were released from school around 3 p.m.
Westboro Baptist, known for protests against homosexuality, came to Suitland High School on Tuesday afternoon after protesting outside the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday began weighing Proposition 8, a California ballot initiative passed in 2008 banning same-sex marriage.
According to Westboro Baptist Church’s online “picketing schedule,” they picketed at the Supreme Court, the Pentagon, Arlington National Cemetery and Suitland High School.
“Suitland is a representation for every high school in the country. This is a training ground for rebellion against God,” said Westboro member Shirley Phelps-Roper, 55. “The teachers and administrators are teaching the children that it is OK to be gay, and that it’s OK to change sex partners more often that you change socks.”
Bobby Manning, pastor at the First Baptist Church of District Heights, organized a group of roughly 20 leaders from county churches and said they wanted to have a presence at Suitland while the Westboro group was picketing.
“Don’t worry about what’s across the street. Have a blessed day, Suitland students,” he said as students got out of school and began walking home.
Manning said the county church leaders’ presence was not a “counter protest” and their focus was on supporting the students, not exchanging words with the Westboro protesters on the opposite side of the road.
“All we want to do is communicate to the students that we love them,” Manning said.
Suitland High School lost two students to gun violence this school year.
Charles Walker Jr., 15, of Hillcrest Heights was gunned down Feb. 18 while walking home with a pair of newly purchased shoes. Aaron Burrell Kidd, an 18-year-old Suitland High freshman, was fatally shot Feb. 19 in Forestville.
During the protest Tuesday, county police officers were present on both sides of the street to ensure safety. Originally, a counter protest was scheduled by the Prince George’s County Young Democrats but it was called off at the request of Suitland Principal Nathan Newman, according to PGCYD president Larry Stafford Jr.
“We didn’t want to bring attention to Suitland, which has already been through too much,” said Maj. George Nadar, the police District 3 commander.
Newman was outside along with other administrators and staff directing students to buses and their homes after they were released from school.
“Our message to the students is that we are four P strong: peaceful, positive, productive and purposed,” Newman said.