Two rival Parker, Colo. high schools may be putting their differences aside this spring in the wake of protest threats from the infamous Westboro Baptist Church.
After Ponderosa High School student Ryan Wheeler published a March 20 guest column in the Denver Post questioning the U.S. Supreme Courtâ€™s ruling of Westboroâ€™s constitutional right to protest at military funerals, the Topeka, Kansas-based church announced plans to protest the high schoolâ€™s May 19 graduation.
Tessa Sullivan, a senior at nearby Chaparral High School, learned of the possible protest and took to her Facebook page, creating a group to peacefully protest the churchâ€™s demonstration.
â€œRegardless of rivalry, that (the Westboro protest) seemed entirelyÂ like crossing a line,â€ Sullivan said. â€œSo I made the group in hopes that a couple people would come out and help me support Ponderosa.â€
Since the groupâ€™s inception, Sullivan has seen an outpouring of support from her classmates and the community, with more than 750 electronic event RSVPs and multiple offerings of donations and signage for the protest.
In an April 25 Westboro news release the churchâ€™s statement included, â€œIt is shameful the state of those students ÂÂâ€“â€“ they have been taught rebellion against God, to run after their lusts and love that which God Almighty calls abomination and worthy of death.â€
After the churchâ€™s announcement, the Douglas County School District released a statement on its official website encouraging students, family members of graduates and the Parker community to ignore the protests.
â€œThe Districtâ€™s Security personnel and Parker Police have identified suitable locations for the protesters to gather, while ensuring those attending the graduation ceremony will be kept a safe distance from the protesters on both sides of the issue,â€ the release says. â€œWe ask all of those involved to avoid engaging or inciting the protesters.â€
The school district has been working with the Parker Police Department for the past two weeks to prepare for both demonstrations, said Sara Walla, the departmentâ€™s Public Information Officer.
â€œThe police presence will be there to make sure there was peace within the counter protest,â€ Sullivan said. â€œThat was not the intention of the group from the beginning, so I hope it will continue to be about supporting Ponderosa.â€
The protests will take place on public land near the graduationâ€™s site, Parkerâ€™s Sports Authority Stadium, according to Randy Barber, spokesman for Douglas County Schools.
â€œWe have to be sort of ready for whatever sort of threats anyone may come after the Westboro folks with,â€ Barber said. â€œOur hope is there wonâ€™t be any impact on the graduation.â€
â€œWe recognize both sides and their First Amendment rights,â€ Barber said of the demonstrators. â€œWhat weâ€™re hoping to do is protect all these seniors that worked so hard to get to graduation day while also recognizing the rights of the protesters.â€
Senior Reporter Erin Udell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Where: Ponderosa High School in Parker, Colo.
What: After student Kevin Wheeler published a guest column in the Denver Post on March 20 that questioned the U.S. Supreme Courtâ€™s ruling of Westboroâ€™s constitutional right to protest funerals, the Topeka, Kansas-based church plans to protest the schoolâ€™s graduation on May 19.
Response: Hearing of the event, Tessa Sullivan, of Ponderosaâ€™s rival Chaparral High School, set up a group on Facebook to peacefully protest the churchâ€™s demonstration.