Westboro Baptist Church

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Lesbian and gay students kissing in front of protesters from Westboro Baptist Church at Oberlin College (Oberlin, Ohio, USA) in May 2000. The students were among several hundred who turned out to rally against the Westboro protesters.

The Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) is an independent Baptist church headed by Fred Phelps and based in Topeka, Kansas, United States. The organization is monitored by the Anti-Defamation League,[1] and is classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.[2][3] Its first public service was held on the afternoon of Sunday, November 27, 1955.[4]

WBC is not affiliated with any known Baptist conventions or associations. The church describes itself as following Primitive Baptist and Calvinist principles, though mainstream Primitive Baptists reject Westboro Baptist Church and Phelps, regarding them as unaffiliated to the Primitive Baptists.[5] The views that distinguish Westboro Baptist Church are views that most Baptists and Calvinists do not recognize, and do not consider to be in any way characteristically Baptist or Calvinistic.[citation needed]


Phelps Chartered law firm

All the principals of the Phelps Chartered law firm,[6] a firm founded by WBC founder Fred Phelps, are members of WBC. Phelps Chartered handles most of WBC's legal work and has received significant awards of attorney's fees from the Civil Rights Attorney's Fees Award Act of 1976 when WBC had been improperly prevented from picketing.[7]

Activities and statements

The group carries out daily picketing in Topeka (purportedly six per day with fifteen on Sunday, "Lord willing", according to the index page of its main website[8]) and travels nationally to picket the funerals of gay victims of murder, gay-bashing or death related to AIDS, as well as other events related or peripherally related to gay people. The WBC website states that the church participated in over 41,000 protests in over 650 cities since 1991 (as of March 2009). [9] They have been known to protest outside theaters in Topeka, under the premise that live theaters (especially Broadway musical productions) are a haven for homosexuality, as well as protesting at Kansas City Chiefs football games, and live pop concerts in Topeka. While being filmed by Louis Theroux they were shown picketing a local appliance store because the store "sold Swedish vacuum cleaners," which the church viewed as supportive of homosexuality due to the Swedish governments' imprisonment of a pastor critical of homosexuality.[10] They have also shown interest in picketing productions of the play The Laramie Project.[11] Recently they have shifted their interest to picketing at the funerals of soldiers killed in the Iraq War, believing this to be more of "God's judgment" on America. The FAQ section of the website states that, in their view, soldiers did not join the military out of a sense of patriotism, but because they are "lazy, incompetent idiots" unable to find work elsewhere.[12] Some states, including Kansas, have passed laws prohibiting picketing at funerals. Westboro has also protested at the funerals of people ranging from Fred Rogers to Coretta Scott King to Jerry Falwell. In the autumn of 2007 the father of a fallen Marine whose funeral was picketed by the WBC was awarded $5 million in damages by a jury.[13][14]

One of Westboro's followers estimated that the church spends $250,000 a year traveling around the world to picket.[15] In the 1990s the church won a series of lawsuits against the City of Topeka and Shawnee County for efforts taken to prevent or hinder WBC picketing. As a result, the church was awarded approximately $200,000 in attorney's fees and costs associated with the litigation. Otherwise, all of the church's money comes from the combined income of its congregants and money won in lawsuits against their opponents.

Phelps Sr., his supporters and members of his church attend the aforementioned gatherings, as well as other gay-related events, with signs bearing anti-gay slogans. Phelps Sr. has characterized the AIDS Memorial Quilt as "100,000 living fags slobberin' around 45,000 dead fags" and declared Elizabeth Taylor, a fundraiser for AIDS research, to be a "world-famous filthy Jew whore." Other regular anti-gay slogans of Westboro include "Homosexuality = Death," "Fags Die, God Laughs," "Matthew Shepard Rots in Hell," "AIDS: Kills Fags Dead" and "Ellen DeGeneres is a Lesbian Slut." (The latter was carried at an "Equality Rocks" rock concert and fundraiser; at the event DeGeneres commented that she was not offended so much by the slogan as the fact that they had drawn pockmarks all over her face on the poster.)

The group came into the national spotlight in 1998, when they were featured on CNN for picketing the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a young man from Wyoming who was beaten to death by two men because of his homosexuality. [16]

On January 25, 2004 Phelps picketed five churches (three Catholic and two Episcopalian) and the Federal Courthouse for allegedly legalizing same-sex marriages in Iowa. Two women married in Vermont had their marriage mistakenly annulled by a federal judge in Sioux City, Iowa. The ruling was quickly reversed. The community response was to hold several counter-protests and hold a large multi-faith service in the town's municipal auditorium. [17]

The group has also picketed Billy Graham revivals, alleging that the evangelist will burn in Hell for failing to propagate the "God Hates Fags" doctrine. In October 2004 the group protested Graham's mass meetings, calling the 85 year-old preacher a "Hell-bound false prophet".

In press releases, WBC referred to Topeka mayor James McClinton as a "wife-beating tyrant". McClinton, who is black, was portrayed in the press release as a gorilla in a suit with a swastika armband.[18]

On January 15, 2006 Westboro members protested the memorial of 2006 Sago Mine disaster victims claiming that the mining accident was God's revenge against America for its tolerance of homosexuality.[19] Footage of the protest, including several members dancing, was later shown on Fox News.

In July 2005 the Westboro Baptist Church declared its intention to picket the memorial service of Cpl. Carrie French in Boise, Idaho. French, aged 19 years old, was killed on June 5 in the Iraqi city of Kirkuk, where she served as an ammunition specialist with the 116th Brigade Combat Team's 145th Support Battalion. Her death is seen by the church as divine punishment of the United States. Phelps Sr. was quoted as saying, "Our attitude toward what's happening with the war is [that] the Lord is punishing this evil nation for abandoning all moral imperatives that are worth a dime."[20]

The Westboro Baptist Church declared its intention to picket the funerals of other soldiers as well, and did so in August 2005. A group from the church protested at the funeral of Spc. Edward Myers, a soldier from St. Joseph, Missouri, who died in Iraq. Shirley Phelps-Roper (one of Phelps Sr.'s daughters and the main author of the WBC Epics and Hate Letters) told a television reporter, "Who would serve a nation that is Godless and has flipped off, defiantly defied, defiantly flipped off, the Lord their God?" She then reiterated her belief that Myers was burning in Hell.[21]

On January 26, 2008 they traveled to Jacksonville, NC, home of Camp Lejeune to protest the United States Marine Corps in the wake of the murder of Maria Lauterbach. A five member group of females protested, stomping on the American Flag and shouting slogans such as "1,2,3,4, God Hates the Marine Corps". A group of over forty counter protesters arrived and one spat in Shirley Phelps-Roper's face.[22] Another counter protest was held across town, which attracted over 150 counterprotesters.

On February 2, 2008 they traveled to Salt Lake City, Utah to picket during the funeral of former LDS Church president Gordon B. Hinckley, displaying picket signs criticizing Hinckley for being a "lying false prophet" and "leading millions of people astray." The organization also criticized Hinckley for being too accepting of homosexuals, accusing him of having an "ambiguous voice" about homosexuality rather than taking a firm stand against it. One picketer stated that the protest was because he "preached that God loves all his children, including the gay ones."[23] Police had a hard time determining whether the demonstration met the guidelines of protected free speech. It was said at least one of the picket signs read, "Hinckley is in hell."[24]

Members of the Westboro Baptist Church have protested in Utah before. In June, three members of the group demonstrated a few blocks away from a funeral of a South Jordan soldier. The protesters held signs displaying messages such as "pray for more dead soldiers."[25]

On April 10, 2008, Westboro picketed the funerals of three students who were killed in a house fire at the University of Wisconsin-Stout in Menomonie, Wisconsin. Around 1,000 students showed up and drove off the protesters after fifteen minutes.[26]

On May 14, 2008, two days after the deadly 2008 Sichuan earthquake, they issued a press release thanking God for the great earthquake that caused heavy loss of life in China, and "pray for many more earthquakes to kill many more thousands of impudent and ungrateful Chinese". In the article they also called Chinese people "vile oriental [sic] ingrates", and declared that "God hates China". [27]

In August 2008, Westboro announced plans to protest in Winnipeg, Canada at the funeral of Tim McLean, a carnival worker who was beheaded on a Greyhound Canada bus.[28] While a small number of Church members succeeded in crossing the border despite orders to prevent the groups from entering Canada, they never showed up at the funeral.[29]

In December 2008, as a result of an atheist sign displayed near a nativity scene as part of a Christmas display in the Washington State Capitol, and the controversy which ensued, Westboro Baptist Church requested a display which included the text "Santa Claus will take you to hell", among other incendiary wording.[30][31] This was in addition to several other groups requesting a wide assortment of other items to be displayed in the state capitol.

In February 2009, the group protested at the death of one of the Buffalo area plane crash's victims. Students from the nearby University at Buffalo and the Buffalo area held a peaceful counter protest, holding up white sheets to shield the victim's family from the Phelps. A motorcycle brigade revving their engines drowned out the Phelps.[32]

Announced protests

The church frequently announces protests in advance on their website. Occasionally, the church has accepted offers for radio air time in exchange for canceling an announced protest.[33][34]

Criminal record

In 1993 Charles F. Hockenbarger, Karl Hockenbarger, Timothy Phelps, Jonathan Phelps, Phelps Sr. and Margie Phelps were brought up on a variety of criminal charges stemming from information gathered following a raid on Westboro Baptist. Several charges were later dropped; the trials that followed saw every member of Westboro Baptist Church over the age of fifteen testifying in the defense of their family and fellow congregants; over 100 defense witnesses were called in all. Timothy Phelps, Charles F. Hockenbarger and Karl Hockenbarger were all found not guilty. Jon Phelps was found guilty of witness intimidation and misdemeanor battery, and has defended the actions that led to that arrest and guilty verdict as recently as October 11, 2006 on Midweek Politics. Margie Phelps was found guilty of filing a false report and Phelps Sr. was found guilty of disorderly conduct as defined by aggravated intimidation of a witness. All three lost their appeals. All six filed lawsuits against the city and took their cases to appeals court, where their lawsuits were dismissed.

In 1995 Phelps Sr.'s eldest grandson, Benjamin Phelps, was convicted of assault and disorderly conduct after spitting into the face of a passerby during a picket and then laughing. The security cameras of a nearby business caught the incident on tape.[35]

Also in 2004, Margie Phelps and her son Jacob were arrested for trespassing, disorderly conduct and failure to obey after disregarding a police officer's order that they were not allowed to enter a company's private property with chairs and stand on them with an upside down flag and a picket sign.[36]

In June 2007 Shirley Phelps-Roper was arrested in Nebraska, after demonstrating at the funeral of a soldier, and charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor. The arrest resulted from her allowing her eight-year-old son to step on the American flag during the demonstration, an act which is illegal under Nebraska law. The defense contends that the child's actions were protected speech, and that the state law is unconstitutional. The prosecution claims that the demonstration was not intended as political speech, but as an incitement to violence, and that Phelps-Roper's conduct may also constitute child abuse.[37]

Church views

The Westboro Baptist Church attributes membership in most religious groups, such as the Roman Catholic Church or Islam, as akin to devil worship, and states these other churches to be "Satanic frauds preaching Arminian lies."[38] All non-Christian entities, non-Protestant Christian churches, and all Protestant Christian churches which do not strongly condemn homosexuality are said to be sending their members to Hell.

Views on homosexuality

The church runs numerous websites such as GodHatesFags.com, GodHatesAmerica.com and others expressing condemnation of homosexuality.

The church bases its work around the belief expressed by its best known slogan and the address of its primary website, "God hates fags," and expresses the idea that every tragedy in the world is linked to homosexuality – specifically society's increasing tolerance and acceptance of the "Homosexual Agenda." The group maintains that God hates homosexuals above all other kinds of "sinners"[12] and that homosexuality should be a capital crime.[39]

Views on Catholicism

WBC member protesting Pope Benedict XVI outside the United Nations in New York City (2008).

Westboro is also anti-Catholic, claiming that the Roman Catholic Church is a "fag" church and that a third of Catholic priests are active homosexuals, seducing helpless children and women; Westboro Baptist refers to priests as "vampires" and "Draculas" and talks of Catholic priests sucking semen out of children's genitals like vampires suck blood from their victims. In addition, WBC calls Pope Benedict XVI such epithets as "The Godfather of Pedophiles" and "Pervert Pope". In April 2008 the WBC protested Pope Benedict XVI during a papal visit in New York City.

The WBC launched a website called Priests Rape Boys in which they criticize the Roman Catholic Church because of the Catholic sex abuse scandal, saying, “Every time any person gives any amount of money to the Catholic Church, that person is paying the salary of pedophile rapists.”[40]

The WBC describes the Roman Catholic Church as, “the largest, most well-funded and organized pedophile group in the history of man” [41] and goes on to say that, “There are over 1 billion Catholics in the world—that's one out of every six people alive today—and every single one of them will split Hell wide open when they die—period. And there is nothing they can do about it.” The WBC then goes on to disrespect the Eucharist saying, “does anyone really think that in between the time that the priests diddle the little boys and then feed the idolaters the goofy 'eucharist' wafers, that they even wash their hands?”[40]

Westboro Baptist operates three separate websites related to this issue, though two are not yet operational.

Views on Protestantism

Though the main purpose of the Priests Rape Boys website is to criticize Catholics, the WBC also criticizes several mainline Protestant churches on the website, including, Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Episcopalians and Baptists. The WBC explains that their, “preachers have shirked their responsibility to tell people the truth about sin, and instead lie to them about what the Lord their God doth require of them. If these lying, false prophets told people the truth about what God says regarding those who suffer sin upon their neighbor (Lev. 19:17-18), there wouldn't be any butts in the seats when the plate got passed. These preachers are not preachers of righteousness, they are teachers having itching ears (2Tim 4:3), and they absolutely count on the abysmal bible illiteracy of their parishioners.” and goes on to say that, “'Priests rape boys' is indeed an air-tight, three word case against all of the mainline 'christian' churches - their preachers and members, without exception. They are all going to Hell!”[42][dead link]

Views on Eastern Orthodoxy

The WBC also holds an anti-Orthodox stance, claiming that Orthodox Christians are indistinguishable from Roman Catholics. The WBC criticizes the Eastern Orthodox Church because of the Eastern Orthodox icons, claiming that they constitute idolatry. The WBC also criticizes the Eastern Orthodox Church for their veneration of the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos, saying, “There is no scripture that supports bowing down to kiss images, you idiots, or praying to Mary! She was a human being, who God predestinated to bring forth the Lord Jesus Christ, and to raise him. And she knew what her job was in this life. Instead of wrapping around that God-forsaken axle, FEAR GOD! Forget about praying to any false goddesses; GET RIGHT WITH GOD!!!” The WBC then concludes by calling the Eastern Orthodox Church “a fag church”.[43]

Views on race and ethnicity

WBC portrayal of Topeka mayor James McClinton (an African-American)

While the Westboro Baptist Church has made statements attempting to distance itself from racism,[44] the Anti-Defamation League has documented racist imagery in its fliers and racial slurs against African-Americans. When the WBC attacked Topeka mayor James McClinton, he was portrayed as a gorilla with a Nazi swastika armband.[45]

In November 2008, the church stated on its picket schedules that it would be protesting the Italian Consulate in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania because Italians are "mobster-breeding perverts" and "God REALLY hates Italy." The post also portrays Italians as unintelligent and the validity of their "culture" is mocked as well. [46]

Views on Islam

In response to a Newsweek article alleging that American soldiers flushed copies of the Qur'an down the toilet at Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay, Fred Phelps released this statement:[47]

So what if our guys flushed copies of the Quran down the toilet? We hope they did. They probably did; We hope they flush more. Mohammed was a demon-possessed whoremonger and pedophile who contrived a 300-page work of Satanic fiction: The Quran! Like America's own whoremonger and pedophile wangled his own hokey Book of Mormon!

Phelps went on to give a brief literary dissection of the Quran, using nearly identical grammar and language to his and his children's (likewise identical) dissections of The Laramie Project:

In relation to the war in Iraq a WBC flier implies that God has sided with the Muslims:

In His retaliatory rage God is killing Americans with Muslim IEDs: "Saying Touch not my anointed, and do my prophets no harm." 1 Chron 16:22.[48]

Views on Hinduism

The WBC is also anti-Hindu. They have a God Hates India website where they state:

80% of India’s population claim to practice Hinduism. ‘Nuff said. A country full of idolatry inevitably results in a nation full of fags and fag-enablers, because that’s what happens when you depart from the Living God![49]

The WBC then admonishes Hindus to convert to Christianity saying:

If you would STOP worshipping false gods, being a fag would not be a complex matter. Stop going a whoring after other gods and start serving the Living God in truth![50]

Views on Judaism

In the section about Jews the WBC FAQ states: "...the only true Jews are Christians. The rest of the people who claim to be Jews aren't, and they are nothing more than typical, impenitent sinners ... the vast majority of Jews support fags. In fact, it is the official policy of Reformed Jews to support same-sex marriage. Of course, there are Jews who still believe God's law, but most of them have even departed from that. It doesn't matter if you're a Jew or a Gentile...as long as you believe in Christ."[51]

On the subject of neo-Nazis, KKK, and other violent extremist groups: "We don't believe in physical violence of any kind, and the Scripture doesn't support racism. ... The only true Nazis in this world are fags."[52]

In 1996 Phelps led a protest at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., proclaiming:

Whatever righteous cause the Jewish victims of the 1930s–40s Nazi Holocaust had, (probably minuscule, compared to the Jewish Holocausts against Middle Passage Blacks, African Americans and Christians—including the bloody persecution of Westboro Baptist Church by Topeka Jews in the 1990s), has been drowned in sodomite semen. American taxpayers are financing this unholy monument to Jewish mendacity and greed and to filthy fag lust. Homosexuals and Jews dominated Nazi Germany. ... The Jews now wander the earth despised, smitten with moral and spiritual blindness by a divine judicial stroke. ... And God has smitten Jews with a certain unique madness... Jews, thus perverted, out of all proportion to their numbers energize the militant sodomite agenda... Jews are the real Nazis.


Also in 1996, Phelps began a campaign called "Topeka's Baptist Holocaust", whereby he attempted to draw attention to attacks perpetuated against WBC picketers, saying that they were not random but organized attacks orchestrated by Jews and homosexuals. Phelps announced, "Jews killed Christ", and "Fag Jew Nazis are worse than ordinary Nazis. They've had more experience. The First Holocaust was a Jewish Holocaust against Christians. The latest Holocaust is by Topeka Jews against Westboro Baptist Church."

In another statement, he said "Topeka Jews today stir up Kansas tyrants in persecuting Westboro Baptists. They whine about the Nazi Holocaust, while they perpetrate the Topeka Holocaust.

WBC was present at a 2002 Holocaust memorial dedication in Topeka, proclaiming "God Hates Reform Judaism".[54]

A March 25, 2006 flier regarding a Jewish adversary of Phelps uses the phrase "bloody Jew" four times and the phrase "evil Jew" more than once every twelve sentences. A sampling of WBC's fliers regarding Judaism can be found at the ADL's website.[55] Phelps has also been targeted by the Anti-Defamation League for his anti-Semitic statements.[55][56]


Laws limiting funeral protests

In response to the protests conducted by Westboro members at Indiana funerals, a bill was introduced in the Indiana General Assembly that would make it a felony to protest within 500 feet (approximately 150 meters) of a funeral. The bill provides penalties of up to three years in prison and a $10,000 fine for those found to be in violation of the law. Shortly before this bill was signed members of the church had threatened to protest in Kokomo, Indiana, at a funeral service that was being held for a soldier who was killed in Iraq. On January 11, 2006 the bill unanimously (11-0) passed a committee vote,[57] and while members of the church had traveled to Kokomo to protest, they were not seen during or after the funeral service.

Several other states, such as South Dakota, have adopted similar legislation. Some have been critical of these laws, however, saying that they could prevent other protests and may violate the First Amendment right to freedom of speech. WBC has expressed their intention to contest these laws, and if victorious collect damages while the Phelps Chartered law firm collects attorney's fees under the Civil Rights Attorney's Fees Award Act of 1976.

On 23 May 2006 the state of Michigan banned any intentional disruption of funerals within 500 feet of the ceremony. Violating the statute would be a felony, punishable by up to two years in prison and a $5,000 fine for the first offense and up to four years in prison and a $10,000 fine for a subsequent offense.[58]

On 17 May 2006 the state of Illinois enacted Senate Bill 1144, the "Let Them Rest In Peace Act", to shield grieving military families from protests during funerals and memorial services of fallen soldiers. A first time violation of the Act is a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $1,500 fine and a Class 4 felony for a second or subsequent offense, which is punishable by one to three years in state prison and a fine of up to $25,000.[59]

Lawsuit against WBC

On March 10, 2006 WBC picketed the funeral of Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder.[60][61][62] On June 5, 2006 the Snyder family sued[63] Fred Phelps, WBC, and unnamed others for defamation, invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. On 31 October 2007, WBC, Fred Phelps and his two daughters, Shirley Phelps-Roper and Rebecca Phelps-Davis, were found liable for invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress. A federal jury awarded Mr. Snyder $2.9 million in compensatory damages, then later added a decision to award $6 million in punitive damages for invasion of privacy and an additional $2 million for causing emotional distress (A total of $10,900,000). The organization said it would not change its message because of the verdict.[64][65][66]

The lawsuit named Albert Snyder as the plaintiff and Fred W. Phelps, Sr.; Westboro Baptist Church, Inc.; Rebekah Phelps-Davis; and Shirley Phelps-Roper as defendants, alleging that they were responsible for publishing defamatory information about the Snyder family on the Internet, including statements that Albert and his wife had "raised [Matthew] for the devil" and taught him "to defy his Creator, to divorce, and to commit adultery." Other statements denounced them for raising their son Catholic. Snyder further complained the defendants had intruded upon and staged protests at his son's funeral. The claims of invasion of privacy and defamation arising from comments posted about Snyder on the Westboro website were dismissed on First Amendment grounds, but the case proceeded to trial on the remaining three counts.[67][68]

Albert Snyder, the father of Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder, testified:

"They turned this funeral into a media circus and they wanted to hurt my family. They wanted their message heard and they didn't care who they stepped over. My son should have been buried with dignity, not with a bunch of clowns outside."[69]

In his instructions to the jury U.S. District Judge Richard Bennett stated that the First Amendment protection of free speech has limits, including vulgar, offensive and shocking statements, and that the jury must decide "whether the defendant's actions would be highly offensive to a reasonable person, whether they were extreme and outrageous and whether these actions were so offensive and shocking as to not be entitled to First Amendment protection."[70] See also Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, a case where certain personal slurs and obscene utterances by an individual were found unworthy of First Amendment protection, due to the potential for violence resulting from their utterance.

WBC is seeking a mistrial based on alleged prejudicial statements made by the judge and violations of the gag order by the plaintiff's attorney.[71] An appeal is also likely. WBC has said that it is thankful for the verdict.[72]

On February 4, 2008 U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett upheld the ruling but reduced the punitive damages from $8 million to $2.1 million. The total judgment now stands at $5 million. An appeal by WBC is still pending.[73] Liens have been ordered on church buildings and Phelps' law office in an attempt to ensure that the damages are paid.[74]

Other legal responses

On July 14, 2006 Mundy Township, Michigan billed the WBC for $5,000. The Westboro church had informed township authorities on June 28 that a protest was planned at the Swartz Funeral Home. The bill to the church ensued, according to the local police chief, because the congregation failed to keep a verbal contract for security. Fred Phelps' daughter claimed that the Holy Ghost had informed them not to fly to Michigan even though they had already purchased airline tickets. Security at the Webb funeral was high, fifteen fire trucks were involved as well as numerous police officers from nearby jurisdictions.[75] The township has now stated that it will not pursue the matter.

Banned from entering the UK

In February 2009, UK news sources[76] discovered that WBC had announced on their website that they intended to picket a youth production of The Laramie Project to be held at Central Studio, Queen Mary's College in Basingstoke, UK on February 20, 2009. This would have been their first ever picket in the UK[77].

On the lead-up to the picket, a number of MPs, lobby groups and LGBT groups appealed to the UK's Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith[78], requesting she invoke her special powers to exclude individuals from entering the UK[79], based on the fact that WBC would be inciting hatred towards LGBT people. On February 18, 2009, two days before the intended picket date, the Home Office announced that Fred Phelps and Shirley Phelps-Roper are to be specifically excluded from entering the UK, and that ‘other church members could also be flagged and stopped if they tried to enter Britain‘[80][81][82].

An alliance of six UK religious groups (the Baptist Union of Great Britain, Evangelical Alliance UK, Faithworks, Methodist Church of Great Britain, United Reformed Church and Bible Society-funded thinktank Theos) made a joint statement on February 19, 2009 in support of the government's decision and condemning the activities of the Westboro Baptist Church saying, "We do not share [Westboro's] hatred of lesbian and gay people. We believe that God loves all, irrespective of sexual orientation, and we unreservedly stand against their message of hate toward those communities."[83][84]

Counter protests

Counter protests are generally organized to provide an opposing viewpoint at sites that Westboro Baptist pickets. In some cases counter protesters have lined up and turned their backs on the Westboro Baptist pickets or encircled them in a ring, explaining that they want to symbolically shield the community from the protest.

Two days after the September 11th attacks, a 19-year old man named Jared Dailey stood on the street corner facing the church holding up a plywood sign that said "Not today Fred." Within two days, 86 people joined him, waving American flags and anti-hate signs.[85] Since then, "Not today Fred" has become a commonly used motto for counter protests against Phelps.

On April 10, 2008 a 6-person representation from the Phelps group picketed at the University of Wisconsin-Stout in Menomonie, Wisconsin—only 15 minutes into their scheduled 1 hour picket, the group retreated from the campus with a crowd of nearly one thousand students marching behind them shouting "go home, go home." According to the group's primary website, the picket was spurred by a recent house fire that occurred in Menomonie killing 3 students. The deaths were labeled as "fires sent by God" by the group who claimed that parents were to blame for "teaching them to be whores and bastards." [86]

On February 5, 2009 the students of a Prairie Village, Kansas high school staged a counter-protest[87] with the church using one corner of an intersection and the students the remaining three.

On March 9, 2009, during a protest at the University of Chicago, they were met by more than 100 students waving signs bearing mocking slogans such as "God hates the new Facebook" and "God hates dial-up." Nearby scantily clad fraternity brothers danced to gay anthems.[88]

Michael Moore organized a humorous counterprotest against the church for his television show The Awful Truth. He followed Phelps around the country in the "Sodomobile", a pink bus filled with gay men and women. At one point, they even got out to meet Fred Phelps and Moore introduces the Sodomobile to him.[89]

Patriot Guard Riders

The Patriot Guard Riders is a motorcyclist group comprised mostly of veterans who attend the funerals of members of the U.S. Armed Forces at the invitation of the deceased’s family. The group was initially formed to shelter and protect the funerals from protesters from the WBC, but has since expanded its activities beyond those funerals covered by the WBC.

Violence directed against the WBC

  • There have been differing reports on actions at an October 5, 2005 picket of a Wisconsin soldier's funeral. One report was that Dodge County Sheriff Todd Nehls asked Paulette Phelps to move so he could protect her. Her group called him a Nazi and refused to comply. A conflicting claim put forth by members of the WBC alleges that Sheriff Nehls punched Paulette Phelps in the face. Video of the purported incident at the WBC website — which claims to show Nehls striking one of the church members — is ambiguous, and at the point the purported attack takes place, the camera is pointed at the ground (indeed, large portions of the video are made up of shots of Westboro members' feet and the ground).[90]
  • During a picket in Seaford, Delaware on May 21, 2006 a mob broke through police lines and tried to assault WBC members who fled into a police van. Some of the mob then began banging on the van attempting to get inside. Two windows of the van were shattered before the van could get away. Five people face criminal charges.[91]
  • It has been suggested that a Liberty University student who intended to bring a bomb to the funeral of Jerry Falwell may have intended to use the device against a WBC protest at the funeral.[92][93]
  • Early in the morning of August 2, 2008, someone set fire to Westboro Baptist Church, causing an estimated $20–30K in damage.[94]


A number of Phelps' critics have suggested that the actions of the Westboro Baptist Church are simply a ploy to receive attention above all else. Counter-protesting against the group, they suggest, gives them attention and incentive that they do not deserve; and a more effective response against Phelps would be to ignore his congregation completely.[95] WBC, through the closely related Phelps Chartered law firm, has collected fees under the Civil Rights Attorney's Fees Award Act of 1976 when their protests have been unlawfully disrupted. [96]

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) describes the Westboro Baptist Church as "virulently homophobic", whose anti-homosexual rhetoric they say is often a cover for anti-Semitism, Anti-Americanism, racism, and anti-Catholicism.[1] The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), an anti-hate group, has added the Westboro Baptist Church to its list of hate groups.[2] Many mainstream conservative and fundamentalist Christians (including those who oppose homosexuality, such as the late Jerry Falwell), have denounced Phelps' remarks as hateful and un-Christian, and in general oppose Phelps' view that homosexuals cannot repent (the traditional view is that homosexuality is not the "unpardonable sin"; homosexuals may "renounce their ways" as may any other "sinner"). Falwell is often credited with referring to Phelps as "a first-class nut". WBC picketed the funeral service of Falwell on May 22, 2007.[97]

Opposition to Westboro's theology

Westboro has been labeled as a cult by many Christian ministries;[98] as well as by anti-cult figures such as Rick Ross. Westboro's theology differs considerably from mainstream Christianity by espousing that individuals will be given eternal damnation for any number of sins. The members justify their messages, which they acknowledge to be alarming and hurtful, because the messages are intended to turn people from their current paths which will cause them to be sent to hell.[99]

Additional media coverage

The controversy surrounding the WBC has often attracted coverage from several major media organizations.

In 2005, the British TV network British Sky Broadcasting produced an investigative piece using hidden cameras, which included footage of two of Phelps' granddaughters, Libby and Jael.[100] In the testimonial, Libby and Jael explain that they hope and pray that no one outside of Westboro becomes "elect,"[100] because they want everyone else in the world to die horribly and burn in Hell,[100] and that even if they did not believe their actions were dictated by God, they would still do and enjoy them anyway.[100] The interview was not part of the hidden camera segment, and although much of the footage was taken without the knowledge or permission of Westboro, the church maintains a link to the entire report on its website.

Fred Phelps appeared on Scarborough Country on April 11, 2006 and his microphone was promptly cut after ranting about God's damnation of the U.S. instead of answering a question.[101] His daughter, Shirley Phelps-Roper appeared on Fox News' Hannity & Colmes show on April 18, 2006 to defend the WBC protests.[102] On the June 10, 2006 edition of The Big Story Weekend, host Julie Banderas exclaimed to Shirley Phelps-Roper, "You are the devil! If you believe in the Bible, miss, you're going to hell!"[103] Another Fox News host, Bill O'Reilly often has guests on his show, The O'Reilly Factor, and speaks out against the church and its tactics, while steadfastly refusing requests by church members to appear and defend themselves. His tactics provoked the appearance of a video on the church's website proclaiming O'Reilly's inevitable damnation as a result of his "persecution". Shirley Phelps Roper also appeared with her two daughters on The Tyra Banks Show and on The Jeremy Kyle Show in the UK. As well, Shirley appeared in a live debate on homosexuality against Peter Tatchell, of the gay rights group Outrage, on Nick Margerrison's Kerrang! Radio show The Night Before. Tatchell claimed that he had "nothing in common" with Shirley, to which she responded "we're both human beings". The presenter referred to her views as "obvious bigotry", and when told that Fred Phelps' views were "awesome" he responded "no, not at all". Her mic had to be regularly cut to give Tatchell a chance to speak.

Satirist Charles Firth of the Australian television program The Chaser's War on Everything appeared with members of Westboro Baptist Church, at the picket of a U.S. Marine's funeral, in early 2006. With the camera rolling, he proceeded to ask a male member of the church several questions about his motivations. Firth then started complimenting the man on his appearance, following him around as he avoided the camera, and stroked his shoulder lamenting how he wished they could be a couple. Other members of Phelps' congregation then turned on the reporter and the cameraman when the homosexual innuendo became obvious.[104]

The British television channel BBC Two broadcast a documentary by Louis Theroux. On April 1, 2007 about WBC and the Phelps Family, called Louis Theroux: The Most Hated Family in America.[105] Theroux has presented a number of documentaries about unusual or unconventional people and groups in the UK, the US, and elsewhere.[106] The website godhatesfags.com was prominently featured in The Jeremy Kyle Show, a talk show aired on the ITV network in the United Kingdom on June 5, 2007. Church members Shirley and her daughters had been invited to express their beliefs live via satellite to the UK. On June 21, 2007, WBC featured in the Channel 4 documentary Keith Allen Will Burn In Hell. It showed Keith Allen profiling the Church.

In the July 2007 issue of Spin magazine, the back-page "Hidden Track" editorial was a satire entitled "Sect's Pistol: Why one hate-filled pastor may be the nastiest punk of all" by Patton Oswalt.

On January 24, 2008, after the death of actor Heath Ledger, Australian radio station 2Day FM's Kyle and Jackie O verbally clashed with Shirley Phelps Roper representing the church. A few days later the Daily Telegraph in Sydney published an article criticizing the church for speaking out against Ledger only days after he died.[107] The church responded on February 1, 2008, claiming that they would release the website godhatesaustralia.com and saw nothing wrong with their stance.[108]

Numerous college campuses have begun learning about the Westboro Baptist Church. The University of New Haven's official student-run newspaper, the Charger Bulletin, and official radio station 88.7FM WNHU have interviewed Shirley Phelps-Roper, member of the church and lead spokesperson.

Fred Phelps and current, as well as former, members of the WBC are the subject of K. Ryan Jones' 2007 documentary Fall from Grace (2007 documentary).

In August 2008, the church made headlines in Canada for planning to protest the funeral of Tim McLean, who was murdered on a Greyhound bus on July 30[109], as well as a Toronto performance of The Pastor Phelps Project, a play by Alistair Newton which satirizes the church and its protest tactics.[110]

The church has been called a "fanatical American church"[111] and a "fringe religious group"[112] in the Canadian press in reference to the "crazy",[113] "hated"[114] church's threat to picket the funeral of a Manitoba homicide victim.

Approximately twenty WBC members demonstrated in Washington D.C. with anti-gay signs at the January 20, 2009 inauguration of President Barack Obama, on a day where the President called for greater unity in America before an audience of 1.8 million attendees.[115][116]


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  2. ^ a b Southern Poverty Law Center." The Year in Hate:2005". Accessed 5 October 2006.
  3. ^ Southern Poverty Law Center. Active U.S. Hate Groups in 2005. Accessed 5 October 2006.
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  5. ^ Primitive Baptist Online - Disclaimer
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  9. ^ "Picket Locations". http://www.godhatesfags.com/picketlocations.html. Retrieved on 2009-03-22. 
  10. ^ Guardian UK article
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  15. ^ Anti-gay church hounds military funerals | The Guardian | Guardian Unlimited
  16. ^ CNN - Murder charges planned in beating death of gay student - October 12, 1998
  17. ^ Sioux City Journal: Gay marriage case looms over chief justice's speech
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  25. ^ Deseret Morning News | Church group plans protest at Pres. Hinckley's funeral
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  33. ^ 'Insane' picketers cancel Amish funeral protest, The Age, October 5, 2006
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  35. ^ Roger Myers. "Appeals court upholds Phelpses' convictions" The Topeka Capital-Journal, May 24, 1997
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  37. ^ ""Nebraska's Flag Desecration Law Faces Challenge", KETV NewsWatch 7, June 26, 2007". http://www.ketv.com/news/13569930/detail.html. 
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  39. ^ "Outlaw Sodomy", December 3, 2002
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  42. ^ Priests Rape Boys[dead link]
  43. ^ God Hates Russia- Russia’s False Religious Systems
  44. ^ http://www.godhatesfags.com/faq.html#Militia
  45. ^ "Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church: In Their Own Words, On Blacks".
  46. ^ Picketing Schedule. Retrieved November 25 2008
  47. ^ PDF Statement from God Hates Fags.
  48. ^ PDF flyer from God Hates Fags
  49. ^ God Hates India- India’s False Religious Systems
  50. ^ God Hates India- India’s False Religious Systems
  51. ^ "Westboro Baptist Church FAQ: What do you think of Jews?". http://www.godhatesfags.com/main/faq.html#Jews. Retrieved on 2006-12-02. 
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  53. ^ http://www.adl.org/special_reports/wbc/wbc_on_jews.asp
  54. ^ Flier from God Hates Fags (PDF)
  55. ^ a b Sample WBC fliers from ADL
  56. ^ ADL report says homophobic 'church' espouses anti-semitism, racism.
  57. ^ "Funeral protest bill passes out of committee, 11-0"
  58. ^ firstamendmentcenter.org: news
  59. ^ "Gov. Blagojevich signs 'Let Them rest in Peace Act' allowing families to peacefully grieve fallen soldiers: New law makes protesting within 200 feet of a funeral or memorial service a crime"
  60. ^ Honor the fallen: Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder
  61. ^ Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder
  62. ^ WBC press release for Synder funeral picket (PDF)
  63. ^ Snyder family complaint against WBC
  64. ^ "Father wins millions from war funeral picketers" - MSNBC,[31 October 2007
  65. ^ "Kansas church liable in Marine funeral protest" - Reuters, 31 October 2007
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  79. ^ "UK Borders Agency, immigration law". homeoffice.gov.uk. http://www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/policyandlaw/immigrationlaw/immigrationrules/part9/. Retrieved on 2009-02-18.  - Part 9, 320.6 '‘Grounds on which entry clearance or leave to enter the United Kingdom is to be refused ... (6) where the Secretary of State has personally directed that the exclusion of a person from the United Kingdom is conducive to the public good'‘
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  81. ^ "Daily Telegraph - US Church which calls for homosexuals to be killed banned from UK". telegraph.co.uk. February 19, 2009. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/religion/4696132/US-Church-which-calls-for-homosexuals-to-be-killed-banned-from-UK.html. Retrieved on 2009-02-19. 
  82. ^ "BBC News - Anti-gay preachers banned from UK". news.bbc.co.uk. February 19, 2009. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/hampshire/7898972.stm. Retrieved on 2009-02-19. 
  83. ^ "Ekklesia - Churches condemn Westboro hate speech, but challenge remains". ekklesia.co.uk. February 19, 2009. http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/8726. Retrieved on 2009-02-19. 
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  85. ^ Cool Things, Protest Sign, Kansas Historical Society
  86. ^ 1,000 UW-Stout Students Drive Protesters Off Campus
  87. ^ http://www.kansascity.com/637/story/1020190.html
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  89. ^ Schultz, Emily. "Michael Moore: A Biography"
  90. ^ "Video footage of Mayville, WI (Dodge County) - October 5, 2005"
  91. ^ Animation speakfree video.
  92. ^ Nation & World | Protestors at Falwell funeral said to upset student with bombs | Seattle Times Newspaper
  93. ^ ABC News: Bomb Plot Thwarted at Falwell's Funeral
  94. ^ Flames damage Phelps garage
  95. ^ "The High Weirdness Project: Westboro Baptist Church". 2006-11-03. http://www.modemac.com/wiki/Westboro_Baptist_Church. Retrieved on 2006-12-02. 
  96. ^ http://www.godhatesfags.com/fliers/jan2006/20060114_pandering-demagogic-legislatures.pdf
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  99. ^ An overview of Phelps.
  100. ^ a b c d "Inside The Church Of Hate", Sky News, October 25, 2005
  101. ^ 'Scarborough Country' for April 11.
  102. ^ Troop Hating Church Confronted By H&C, Exposed For Who They Are (VIDEO).
  103. ^ Fox News host to guest: 'You're going to hell!'
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  105. ^ Theroux, Louis. Trailer on YouTube. BBC Two
  106. ^ The Most Hated Family in America (interview with Louis Theroux). BBC News, March 30, 2007
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  108. ^ ""Ledger haters turn on Australia"". Daily telegraph (Australia). 2008-02-01. http://www.news.com.au/dailytelegraph/story/0,22049,23143933-5001021,00.html. Retrieved on 2008-02-01. 
  109. ^ "Controversial U.S. church plans to picket funeral", National Post, August 6, 2008.
  110. ^ "Playwright welcomes messages of hate", The Globe and Mail, August 6, 2008.
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  112. ^ Winnipeg Free Press, August 8, 2008, (accessed August 8, 2008)
  113. ^ Cuthbertson, R. Crazy church group to protest play, murder, Calgary Herald, August 8, 2008, (accessed August 8, 2008)
  114. ^ Hated group crosses border to picket funeral, CTV News, August 8, 2008, (accessed August 8, 2008)
  115. ^ http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090121/ap_on_go_pr_wh/inauguration_rdp
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See also

External links

Media coverage

Criticism of WBC

Defenses of WBC


  • Eastboro Baptist Church, a parody of Westboro Baptist, consisting of their arch-rivals Eastboro Baptist, who proclaim "God hates everyone except us"
  • God Hates Fags, a parody protesting the smoking of fags (cigarettes), based on a passage in the Bible
  • God Hates Shrimp, a parody protesting the eating of shrimp and similar sea creatures, based on Old Testament provisions that such animals were unclean
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