About Fred Phelps
Frederick Waldron Phelps, Sr. was born on November 13, 1929. He is the pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC), an independent Baptist church in Topeka, Kansas. He is a disbarred lawyer and founder of the Phelps Chartered law firm. WBC is listed as a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center. He is known for preaching with slogans and banners denoting phrases such as “Thank God for 9/11″, “God hates fags,” “AIDS cures fags,” and “Fags die, God laughs (or mocks),” and claims that God will punish homosexuals as well as people such as Bill O’Reilly, Coretta Scott King, Ronald Reagan, and Howard Dean, whom his church considers “fag-enablers”. His church says he is a “Five-Point Calvinist”. He has also thanked God for the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake.
Phelps and his followers frequently picket various events, especially military funerals, gay pride gatherings, and high-profile political gatherings, arguing it is their sacred duty to warn others of God’s anger. When criticized, Phelps’ followers say they are protected in doing so by the First Amendment. In May 2006 President Bush signed the Respect for America’s Fallen Heroes Act in response to Phelps’ protests at military funerals. In April 2007, Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius signed into law a bill banning the protest of funerals.
Phelps says that he is a preacher who believes that homosexuality and its acceptance have doomed most of the world to eternal damnation. The church at Westboro which he leads has 71 confirmed members, 60 of whom are related to Phelps through blood or marriage or both.
The group is built around a core of anti-homosexual theology, with many of their activities stemming from the slogan “God hates fags,” which is also the name of the group’s main website. Gay rights activists, as well as Christians of virtually every denomination, have denounced him as a producer of anti-gay propaganda and violence-inspiring hate speech.
In 1947, Phelps enrolled as a student at the fundamentalist Bob Jones University, which he left after three semesters. He then spent two semesters at the Prairie Bible Institute. In 1951, he earned a two-year degree from John Muir College.
Phelps earned a law degree from Washburn University in 1962, and founded the Phelps Chartered law firm in 1964. The first notable cases were of a civil rights nature. “I systematically brought down the Jim Crow laws of this town,” he says. Phelps’ daughter was quoted as saying, “We took on the Jim Crow establishment, and Kansas did not take that sitting down. They used to shoot our car windows out, screaming we were nigger lovers,” and that the Phelps law firm made up one-third of the state’s federal docket of civil-rights cases.
Phelps took cases on behalf of African American clients alleging discrimination by school systems, and a predominately black American Legion post which had been raided by police, alleging racially-based police abuse. Phelps’ law firm obtained settlements for some clients. Phelps also sued then-President Ronald Reagan over Reagan’s appointment of a U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, alleging this violated separation of church and state. The case was dismissed by the U.S. district court. Phelps’ law firm, staffed by himself and family members also represented non-white Kansans in discrimination actions against Kansas Power and Light, Southwestern Bell, and the Topeka City Attorney, and represented two female professors alleging discrimination in Kansas universities.
In the 1980s Fred Phelps received awards from the Greater Kansas City Chapter of Blacks in Government and the Bonner Springs branch of the NAACP for his work on behalf of black clients.
Phelps Chartered also won one of the first reverse discrimination cases.
A formal complaint was filed against Fred W. Phelps, Sr. on November 8, 1977 by the Kansas State Board of Law Examiners for his conduct during a lawsuit against a court reporter named Carolene Brady. Brady had failed to have a court transcript ready for Phelps on the day he asked for it; though it did not affect the outcome of the case for which Phelps had requested the transcript, Phelps still requested $22,000 in damages from her. In the ensuing trial, Phelps called Brady to the stand, declared her a hostile witness, and then cross-examined her for nearly a week, during which he accused her of being a “slut,” tried to introduce testimony from former boyfriends whom Phelps wanted to subpoena, and accused her of a variety of perverse sexual acts, ultimately reducing her to tears on the stand. Phelps lost the case; according to the Kansas Supreme Court:
The trial became an exhibition of a personal vendetta by Phelps against Carolene Brady. His examination was replete with repetition, badgering, innuendo, belligerence, irrelevant and immaterial matter, evidencing only a desire to hurt and destroy the defendant. The jury verdict didn’t stop the onslaught of Phelps. He was not satisfied with the hurt, pain, and damage he had visited on Carolene Brady.
In an appeal, Phelps prepared affidavits swearing to the court that he had eight witnesses whose testimony would convince the court to rule in his favor. Brady, in turn, obtained sworn, signed affidavits from the eight people in question, all of whom said that Phelps had never contacted them and that they had no reason to testify against Brady; Phelps had committed perjury.
On July 20, 1979, Fred Phelps was permanently disbarred from practicing law in the state of Kansas, but continued to practice in the Federal courts.
In 1985, nine Federal judges filed a disciplinary complaint against Phelps and five of his children, alleging false accusations against the judges. In 1989, the complaint was settled, with Phelps agreeing to permanently stop practicing in Federal court, and two of his children suspended for periods of six months and one year.
Phelps says he is an old school Baptist, which includes John Calvin’s doctrine of unconditional election, the belief that God has elected certain people for salvation before birth. He says that almost nobody is a member of the elect, and furthermore that he and the members of his congregation (mostly his family) are the only members of the elect, because they are the only ones not afraid to publish the current relevant application of the word of God — in particular, that “God hates fags.”
During 1993–94 interviews with the Topeka Capital-Journal, the four Phelps children (out of thirteen, Mark, Nate, Katherine and Dotty) who had left the church asserted that their father’s religious beliefs were either nonexistent to begin with or have dwindled down to nearly nothing. They insist that Westboro actually serves to enable a paraphilia of Phelps, wherein he is literally addicted to hatred. This statement would serve as the inspiration for the title of the book about Phelps’ life, which was never published due to fear of lawsuit, but became public when the author sued the publisher, who maintained that it was a work for hire and therefore could not be taken to another publisher, attaching a copy of the manuscript to the suit as an exhibit thus making it public record. The record was eventually sealed, although the document had already been released over the Internet.
Two of his sons, Mark and Nate, insist that the church is actually a carefully planned cult that allows Phelps to see himself as a demigod, wielding absolute control over the lives of his family and congregants, essentially turning them into slaves that he can use for the sole purpose of gratifying his every whim and acting as the structure for his delusion that he is the only righteous man on Earth. In 1995, Mark Phelps wrote a letter to the people of Topeka to this effect; it was run in the Topeka Capital-Journal. The children’s claim is partially backed up by B.H. McAllister, the Baptist minister who ordained Phelps. McAllister said in a 1993 interview that Phelps developed a delusion wherein he was one of the few people on Earth worthy of God’s grace and that everyone else in the world was going to Hell, and that salvation or damnation could be directly obtained by either aligning with or opposing Phelps. As of 2006, Phelps maintains this belief. Phelps and his family picket up to approximately six locations every day, including many in Topeka and some events farther afield. On Sundays, up to 15 churches may receive pickets. By their own count, WBC has conducted over 30,000 pickets, in all 50 states, in over 500 cities and towns. Their travel budget exceeds $200,000 annually.
Many of Westboro’s pickets revolve around the play The Laramie Project; Phelps says he consistently sends his followers across the country to picket every performance he finds out about. The play documents the reaction of the people of Laramie, Wyoming to the murder of Matthew Shepard.
Phelps is a character in the play and is portrayed negatively. When the play was made into a movie by HBO, (The Laramie Project), Phelps and the WBC traveled to New York City to picket the HBO home offices with signs reading “United You’ll Fall.”
“ The Laramie Project is a tawdry bit of banal fag melodrama – sordid, cheap, unaffecting, drearily predictable – without the least artistic or literary merit or redeeming social value. Indeed, its only purpose is to promote sinful, soul-damning sodomy by playing on the sick, maudlin emotions of doomed, godless America and thereby to recruit ill-bred teenagers to lives of sin, shame, disease, death and hell.”
Phelps’ stated political views and activities are primarily driven by his view that the United States is, “a sodomite nation of flag-worshiping idolators.”
In 2005, Phelps’ granddaughter Jael was an unsuccessful candidate for Topeka’s City Council; Jael was seeking to replace Tiffany Muller, the first openly gay member of the Topeka City Council.
The family started protesting homosexuality in the late 1980s after Shirley Phelps-Roper’s then-toddler son was allegedly propositioned by a homosexual in a Topeka park, according to Phelps-Roper.
Phelps was cited by the Anti-Defamation League for his numerous anti-semitic comments: On General Wesley Clark and John Kerry (of Jewish descent):
“ His Christ-rejecting, God-hating Jew blood bubbled to the surface. Yes, like his boss [John] Kerry, Clark is a Jew….That these two turds are Jews would not matter—except when they ask for supreme political power & spit in the Face of God, pushing for same-sex marriage, threatening to bring down God’s wrath on us as on Sodom—then some inquiries are in order. Beware! ‘Jews killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men; forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins always; for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost. 1 Thess. 2:14.’ Apostate fags & Jews certain to bring God’s wrath. ”
“ Homosexuals and Jews dominated Nazi Germany…just as they now dominate this doomed U.S.A….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, whereby they are an astonishment of heart, a proverb, and a byword (the butt of jokes and ridicule) among all peoples whither the Lord has driven and scattered them…Jews, thus perverted, out of all proportion to their numbers energize the militant sodomite agenda…The American Jews are the real Nazis (misusers and abusers of governmental power) who hate God and the rule of law. ”
Phelps and the Westboro church run the website godhatessweden.com. Phelps has declared that the heavy Swedish losses in the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake, initially overestimated to be near 20,000, were God’s punishment of Sweden for the promotion of homosexuality. In particular, Phelps has criticized Sweden’s prosecution of Åke Green. Phelps’ website depicts a granite monument designed by himself that claims that Green is a Christian martyr and Phelps has announced plans to erect copies of the monument throughout the United States.
In response, Green has called Phelps “appalling” and “extremely unpleasant”, which led to Phelps taking down his monument of Green.
In 2003 Phelps turned his attacks on Ireland. In a sermon preached on July 29 2007 in which he returned to the topic, he told his congregation that he had launched a website godhatesireland.com to “expose Ireland as the Emerald (now Pink) Isle of the Sodomite Damned, –saturated with fags and dykes at every level of society and government.” His most recent tirade was triggered off when the Literary and Historical Society, a debating society in University College Dublin invited Phelps to participate in a debate on homosexual adoption. He told his congregation that in the past he had
“ …warned America about Ireland’s sad, sick, sodomite culture and fag Irish Senator David Norris’s case before the European Court of Human (i.e., Fag) Rights. (Incidentally, the “Openly-Gay” fag Irish Senator Norris was represented before that Strasbourg European Fag Court, by the famous Dyke-Enabler and Irish President, Mary Robinson.) We warned that WBC has had lots of experience with Ireland’s militant sodomite citizenry, steeped for many decades in ignorant, blind, idolatrous Catholicism, belching out their vile fagspeak, slander, and blasphemy against God and His Word – cursing WBC members as guests on Dublin talk-radio shows. Remember, Martin Luther said Catholic churches, seminaries and monasteries are nothing but sodomite whorehouses filled with unnatural brute beasts and devils. We warned that the very leprechauns of Ireland are likely to be fags!”
Phelps’ attack on former president Mary Robinson and Senator David Norris, both widely respected figures, drew ridicule in Ireland.
Fred Phelps refers to the United States as “A sodomite nation of flag-worshiping idolators.”
“Military funerals are pagan orgies of idolatrous blasphemy where they pray to the dunghill gods of Sodom and play taps to a fallen fool, ‘They shall not lament for him, saying, Ah my brother! or, Ah sister! they shall not lament for him, saying, Ah lord! or, Ah his glory! He shall be buried with the burial of an ass, drawn and cast forth beyond the gates of Jerusalem.’” Jer. 22:18&19.
Phelps is critical of laws against hate speech pertaining to homosexuality as sin. Hate speech laws in Sweden, resulting in the trial of Pastor Åke Green, and Canada are given particular emphasis by Phelps. Phelps has used the term “homo-fascist” to describe countries with such laws.
Phelps has run in various Kansas Democratic Party primaries five times, but has never won. These included races for governor in 1990, 1994, and 1998, receiving about 15% of the vote in 1998. In the 1992 Democratic Party primary for U.S. Senate, Phelps received 31% of the vote Phelps ran for mayor of Topeka in 1993 and 1997.
Phelps supported Al Gore in the 1988 Democratic Party primary election. In his 1984 Senate race, Gore opposed a “gay bill of rights” and stated that homosexuality was not something that “society should affirm”. Phelps has stated that he supported Gore because of these earlier comments. According to Phelps, members of the Westboro Baptist Church helped run Gore’s 1988 campaign in Kansas. Phelps’ son, Fred Phelps Jr., hosted a Gore fundraiser, which Al and Tipper Gore attended, at his home in Topeka. Fred Phelps, Jr. served as a Gore delegate to the 1988 Democratic National Convention. Gore spokesman Dag Vega declined to comment; “We are not dignifying those stories with a response.”
Phelps has repeatedly championed Fidel Castro for Castro’s stance against homosexuality; in 1998 Harper’s magazine published a letter Phelps sent to Castro in which he praised Castro and lambasted the U.S. In 2004, when a pro-homosexual Cuban refugee announced plans to travel to Cuba, Phelps sent another letter to Castro “warning” him of the man’s plans and requesting travel visas for a group of WBC congregants so that they could follow the refugee around Havana with signs bearing anti-U.S. and anti-homosexual slogans.
In 2003, before the fall of Saddam Hussein during the Iraq War, Phelps wrote Hussein a letter praising his regime for being, in his opinion, “the only Muslim state that allows the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ to be freely and openly preached on the streets.” Furthermore, he stated that he would like to send a delegation to Baghdad to “preach the Gospel” for one week. Hussein granted permission, and a group of WBC congregants traveled to Iraq to protest against the U.S. The WBC members stood on the streets of Baghdad holding signs condemning Bill and Hillary Clinton and anal sex. After Saddam was hanged, Phelps released a video commentary that stated that both Saddam Hussein and Gerald Ford (who had died the same week) were now in Hell.
Phelps was first arrested in 1951 and found guilty of misdemeanor battery after attacking a Pasadena police officer. He has since been arrested for assault, battery, threats, trespassing, disorderly conduct, contempt of court, and several other charges; each time, he (along with Westboro and its other members) has filed suit against the city, the police, and the arresting officers. Though he has been able to avoid prison time, he has been convicted more than once:
1994: Contempt of court
1994: Two counts of assault (reduced to disorderly conduct on appeal)
Phelps’ 1995 conviction for assault and battery carried a five-year prison sentence, with a mandatory 18 months to be served before he became eligible for parole. Phelps fought to be allowed to remain free until his appeals process went through. Days away from being arrested and sent to prison, a judge ruled that Phelps had been denied a speedy trial and that he was not required to serve any time.
Phelps has also claimed that his congregation, along with him, have been arrested in Canada for hate speech. This prompted the founding of “Godhatescanada.com.” He has also strongly opposed the legalization of same-sex marriage in Canada and Canada’s Supreme Court.
Since the early 1990s, Phelps has targeted several individuals and groups in the public eye for criticism by the Westboro Baptist Church after their deaths. Prominent examples include President Ronald Reagan, Diana, Princess of Wales, Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, National Football League star Reggie White, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Islam and Muslims, murdered college student Matthew Shepard, the late children’s television host Fred Rogers, Jews, Catholics, Swedes, the Irish and US soldiers killed in Iraq. He has also targeted Joseph Estabrook Elementary School in Lexington, Massachusetts. He recently stated that he would target the late Rev. Jerry Falwell’s funeral.
Shirley Phelps-Roper, a daughter of Fred Phelps, has appeared on Fox News, defending the WBC and attacking homosexuality.
In a recent video sermon, Phelps targeted comedians Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, claiming that they are among the “scoffers and mockers” referred to in the Bible, and used them as evidence that we are in the “last of the Last Days.” He was particularly critical of Colbert’s Emmy Awards show performance, in which Colbert, tongue-in-cheek, called the Hollywood audience “Godless sodomites.” He compared Colbert’s comments to the “blaspheming comics” of Sodom and Gomorrah and referred to both Colbert and Stewart as “sacrilegious buffoons.”
Phelps’ followers have repeatedly protested the University of Kansas School of Law’s graduation ceremonies. They have also, on at least one occasion (May 1999), protested the graduation ceremonies for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
In August of 2007, in the wake of the Minneapolis I-35W bridge collapse, Phelps and his congregation have stated that they will protest at the funerals of the victims. In a statement, the church said that Minneapolis is the “land of the Sodomite damned.”
On May 24, 2006, the United States House and Senate passed the Respect for America’s Fallen Heroes Act, which President Bush signed five days later. The act bans protests within 300 feet of national cemeteries — which numbered 122 when the bill was signed — from an hour before a funeral to an hour after it. Violators face up to a $100,000 fine and up to a year in prison.
As of April 2006, at least 17 states have banned protests near funeral sites immediately before and after ceremonies, or are considering it. These are: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, which passed the law, and Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. Florida increased the penalty for disturbing military funerals, amending a previous ban on the disruption of lawful assembly.
These bans have not been uncontested. Bart McQueary, having protested with Phelps on at least three occasions, filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the constitutionality of Kentucky’s funeral protest ban. On September 26, 2006, a district court agreed and entered an injunction prohibiting the ban from being enforced. In the opinion, the judge wrote:
Sections 5(1)(b) and (c) restrict substantially more speech than that which would interfere with a funeral or that which would be so obtrusive that funeral participants could not avoid it. Accordingly, the provisions are not narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest but are instead unconstitutionally overbroad.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in Missouri on behalf of Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church to overturn the ban on the picketing of soldier’s funerals. The ACLU of Ohio also filed a similar lawsuit.
To counter the Phelps protests at funerals of soldiers, a group of motorcycle riders has formed the Patriot Guard Riders to provide a nonviolent, volunteer buffer between the protesters and mourners.
In addition, when Phelps and his Westboro followers have shown up at Walter Reed Army Medical Center or other locales in the Washington area, they have been actively protested by the DC Chapter of Free Republic, a conservative website.
On June 5, 2006, Albert Snyder, the father of Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder, who was killed in the line of duty on March 3, 2006, and whose funeral was picketed by Phelps, sued Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church, Inc., in the U.S. District Court in Maryland, for defamation, invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The lawsuit also involves accusations made on Phelps’ websites that Mr. and Mrs. Snyder “raised [Matthew] for the devil” and taught him “to defy his Creator, to divorce, and to commit adultery”. On October 31, 2007, a jury returned a $2.9m verdict in favor of the plaintiff. Later, the jury returned in the afternoon with its decision to award $6 million in punitive damages for invasion of privacy and $2 million for causing emotional distress. Phelps then announced his intention to appeal the decision.
On February 4, 2008, U.S. district judge Richard Bennett reduced the amount of damages awarded in the case to $5 million. Bennett’s ruling cited the need to weigh any harm Snyder suffered against the financial resources of the church. The church’s appeal of the verdict is still pending.
In early 2007, Kevin Smith announced plans to produce a horror film entitled Red State featuring a religious extremist based on Phelps as a villain.
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