About Westboro Baptist Church
The Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) is a fundamentalist religious organization headed by Fred Phelps and based in Topeka, Kansas, U.S..
The church runs numerous websites such as GodHatesFags.com, GodHatesAmerica.com and others expressing condemnation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people (LGBT), Roman Catholics, Muslims and Jews, as well as populations it believes are supporting the forementioned groups, including Swedes, Canadians, Irish, British, and Americans.
The organization is monitored by the Anti-Defamation League, and is classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Although well-known in LGBT communities for picketing gay pride events and funerals, the group achieved national notoriety for picketing funeral processions for soldiers killed in action during the Iraq War.
While its members identify themselves as Baptists, the church is an independent church not affiliated with any known Baptist conventions or associations, nor does any Baptist institution recognize the church as a Bible-believing fellowship. The church describes itself as following Primitive Baptist and Calvinist principles, though mainstream Primitive Baptists condemn Westboro Baptist Church and Phelps. Its first public service was held on the afternoon of Sunday, 27 November 1955.
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, based on its Biblical eisegesis, that nearly every tragedy in the world is linked to homosexuality – specifically society’s increasing tolerance and acceptance of the so-called “Homosexual Agenda.” The group maintains that God hates homosexuals above all other kinds of “sinners” and that homosexuality should be a capital crime.
Sky News claims that WBC consists of “about 150 members”. BBC Two claims there are 71 members. A compilation of the names of Phelps’ grandchildren and great-grandchildren, combined with his nine “loyal” children and their spouses, though, numbers 90.
Those who followed Phelps Sr. after he was voted out of his old congregation, Eastside Baptist Church (a traditional Baptist church), were the Hockenbargers (whose offspring later married into the Phelps clan), George Stutzman, Chris Davis (who also married into the Phelps clan) and Theresa Davis (whose relationship, if any, to Chris Davis is unknown). In April 2000, Steve Drain, a documentary filmmaker, interviewed several Westboro members while taping a documentary on religious groups, and came to accept their theology. The family (Steve and Luci Drain, along with daughters and son) joined the church. The Drains are not related to either the Phelpses or the Hockenbargers, nor to anyone else from the original group. In addition, at the outset several other Eastside members joined Westboro, but after Phelps began his controversial activities, those members left Westboro and either returned to Eastside or joined other congregations.
Phelps does not permit Westboro members to marry persons outside the church. As relatively few individuals have joined Westboro, there have been at least two marriages between the Phelps and Hockenbarger clans, resulting in some members having dual genealogical relationships. In the documentary The Most Hated Family in America, the young girls in the church express no interest in getting married, because “that’s not what we are about” and “we’re living in the last of the last days, times are very short”.
Shirley Phelps-Roper esq., daughter of Fred Phelps and an attorney at the Phelps Chartered Law firm, is a prominent member of WBC and often a spokesperson for WBC. For the last couple of years, she has been running the day-to-day operations of the church.
All the principals of the Phelps Chartered law firm, 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.
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) and travels nationally to picket the funerals of homosexual victims of murder, homosexual-bashing or death related to AIDS, as well as other events related or peripherally related to homosexual people. 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. Whilst being filmed by Louis Theroux, they were shown picketing a local appliance store because the store “sold Swedish vacuum cleaners” and the Swedish government had recently imprisoned a pastor for preaching against homosexuality. They have also shown interest in picketing productions of the play The Laramie Project. 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. 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 $11 million in damages by a jury.
One of Westboro’s followers estimated that the church spends $250,000 a year traveling around the world to picket. 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 homosexual-related events, with signs bearing anti-homosexual 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-homosexual 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 wasn’t offended so much by the slogan as the fact that they had drawn pockmarks all over her face on the poster.)
A collection of Westboro signs and slogans can be seen at their website called “The signs of the times”.
When Kevin Oldham, a homosexual musician, died of AIDS-related causes in 1993, Phelps Sr. sent a photo of Kevin to his parents. The photo contained the caption: “Kevin Oldham: Dead Fag”.
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. Though Phelps Sr. claimed that Shepard’s murder was unjust (and the Westboro’s website states that Shepard’s murderers face the same fate as Shepard – eternity in hell unless they repent), the WBC engaged in overt activism against Shepard’s sexual orientation, regardless of the mourning of Shepard’s family and friends (he called Shepard’s mother, Judy, a whore and a “mother from Hell” during the memorial service and told her she’d “soon be joining Matthew”).
On Westboro’s website, Phelps Sr. maintains a “Perpetual Gospel Memorial” to Shepard. There is a similar “memorial” to Diane Whipple, a lesbian woman killed in a dog attack. Some direct quotes/images from the Shepard page:
A photograph of Matthew Shepard’s face with animated flames dancing across it. When the cursor is moved across his face, viewers with a sound card will hear screams and a high-pitched voice shrieking “For God’s sake, listen to Phelps!”
A counter which displays how many days Matthew Shepard has “Been in Hell”.
“WBC does not support the murder of Matthew Shepard: ‘thou shalt not kill.’ Unless his killers repent, they will receive the same sentence that Matthew Shepard received – eternal fire. However, the truth about Matthew Shepard needs to be known. He lived a Satanic lifestyle. He got himself killed trolling for anonymous homosexual sex in a bar at midnight”.
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 city auditorium.
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.
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. 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.”
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.
On January 26, 2008 they travelled to Jacksonville, NC, home of Camp Lejeune to protest the United States Marine Corps in the wake because 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 arrives, one of whom spat in Shirley Phelps-Roper’s face. Another counter protest was held across town, which attracted approximately 150+ counterprotesters.
On February 2, 2008, they travelled 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 the gay lifestyle rather than taking a firm stand against it. 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.”
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.”
In the wake of the Amish school shooting, members of Westboro Baptist Church planned on picketing the funerals of the five girls killed in the shooting. Their signs were going to call the girls “whores” and that they are “burning in hell”. In an attempt to stop them, news radio personality/host Mike Gallagher attempted to dissuade them. After WBC first rejected a monetary offer, Gallagher offered them an hour of unrestricted airtime on his show. WBC accepted, and the picket was called off. On October 5, 2006, members of WBC were “hosts” of the Mike Gallagher’s radio show, with Gallagher giving periodic warnings to listeners that they (the members of WBC) did not represent the views of him or the station.
In February of 2007, the WBC threatened to picket the funeral of ten Bardstown, Kentucky family members who died in a fire as well as a similar one in Tennessee where four children died in a fire. In both instances, fliers were sent to the communities stating that God “hates” both states “for promoting sodomy and immorality” and for the states “rabidly persecuting” the church. However, on the Friday before the Bardstown funerals, the church elected to use an hour of radio time to promote their message.
WBC has been sending abusive faxes to Princess Madeleine of Sweden because the pastor Åke Green was convicted for inciting hatred of homosexuals after one of his anti-gay sermons.
On the day of the April 16, 2007 campus massacre on the Virginia Tech campus, the church declared its intent to protest the funerals of the students killed. In a deal similar to that struck for the victims of the Amish school shooting, Gallagher and the church announced that the church has agreed to not protest these funerals in lieu of airtime on his show.
On August 2, 2007 they announced they will be picketing those who have died when the I-35W Mississippi River bridge collapsed.
On December 6, 2007 they announced they would be present at the December 8, 2007 re-opening of Westroads Mall in Omaha, Nebraska to “thank God” for the Westroads Mall massacre and would be present at the victims’ funerals.
On January 22, 2008 they announced they will be picketing at Heath Ledger’s funeral.
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. 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, while 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.
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.
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, however, 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.
Other value judgements
The Westboro Baptist Church attributes membership in most religious groups, such as the Roman Catholic Church or Islam, as akin to devil worship. All non-Christian entities, non-Protestant Christian churches, as well as all Protestant Christian churches which do not strongly condemn homosexuality, are said to be sending their members to Hell. The Westboro Baptist Church teaches that menstruation is a curse from God upon lustful women. Phelps teaches that God cursed Eve with a curse of blood. In the group’s teachings if a woman stays ‘pure’ then she will never menstruate.
While the Westboro Baptist Church says that racial discrimination is a sin, it and Phelps Sr. have been accused of various racist acts, including using racist imagery in its fliers and using racial epithets.
A compilation of Westboro Baptist Church’s various racial and political views:
The Anti-Defamation League has accused Westboro of racism toward blacks, based on numerous racially-offensive quotes from the church and its leaders.
In the documentary Hatemongers, Phelps and his children quote Bible verses denouncing racism and saying that it is a sin. He says that it differs from homosexuality in that “God never said it is an abomination to be Black.”
In response to a Newsweek article alleging that American soldiers flushed copies of the Koran down the toilet at Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay, Fred Phelps released this statement:
“ 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.”
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.”
On the subject of 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.”
Phelps refers to the Holocaust as “minuscule” and led a protest at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. in 1996, proclaiming:
“ Whatever righteous cause the Jewish victims of the 1930s-40s Nazi Holocaust had… 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”.
During the 2004 United States presidential election, Phelps campaigned against Senator John Kerry, claiming that his affiliation with Judaism made him unfit to run the country, and on his webpage gave a lengthy recitation of Kerry’s family tree, naming all of his Jewish ancestors.
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. Phelps has also been targeted by the Anti-Defamation League for his anti-Semitic statements.
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 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. Phelps has also reproduced an alleged “Diary of Another Fag Catholic Priest” on Westboro’s homepage and claims that “fag priests and dyke nuns is[sic] the order of the day for Kansas Catholics. They deserve the sick, perverted leadership that now dooms and damns them”. About Catholics, he says “They’re mean. Mean as Hell. Headed for Hell. The meanest, most hateful people on Earth.”
The day after the death of Pope John Paul II, Phelps held a service to “celebrate his entrance into Hell”, during which he boasted, “You don’t think he split Hell wide open? We’re the only ones telling the truth about that son of a bitch!” That evening he posted a flier on his webpage showing a doctored photo of a screaming John Paul II with horns coming out of his forehead, with the caption:
“ Deal with it, you idolatrous morons! The pope is in Hell. Westboro Baptist Church members are competent expert witnesses, having picketed hundreds of Catholic churches in all fifty states over the past fourteen years. We will bear witness on Judgment Day: Catholics are the meanest, most violent people on Earth, and their churches are filled with filthy fag priests. On John Paul II’s watch, the Catholic Church became the CHURCH OF THE HOLY PEDOPHILES and sodomite feces and semen replaced bread and wine. ”
Westboro operates three separate websites related to this issue, though two are not yet operational (see below).
On June 5th 2007, on ITV’s Jeremy Kyle Show, Shirley Phelps told a Catholic member of the audience that the Catholic church is “the largest paedophile machine in the whole world, and God hates them”; the satellite link was then broken.
Laws prohibiting 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, 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.
Lawsuit against WBC
On March 10, 2006 WBC picketed the funeral of Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder. On June 5, 2006 the Snyder family sued 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 wouldn’t change its message because of the verdict.
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.
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.”
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.” 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. An appeal is also likely. WBC has said that it is thankful for the verdict.
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 judgement now stands at $5 million. An appeal by WBC is still pending.
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. The township has now stated that it will not pursue the matter.
Counter protests are generally organized to provide an opposing viewpoint at sites that Westboro pickets. In some cases counter protesters have lined up and turned their backs on the Westboro pickets or encircled them in a ring, explaining that they want to symbolically shield the community from the hate.
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. Since then, “Not today Fred” has become a commonly used motto for counter protests against Phelps.
Patriot Guard Riders
The Patriot Guard Riders is a motorcyclist group comprised primarily 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 Westboro
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).
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.
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.
Spoof web sites
Responses include the creation of an opposing website, God loves fags, a pro-gay rights website, launched by Kris Haight on March 1, 1999. The site focuses on the debate surrounding religion and homosexuality and especially homosexuality and Christianity.
On August 18, 1999, an unidentified person transferred ownership of the domain godhatesfags.com to Kris Haight. Apparently, this was done by forging an email message from Phelps. Haight promptly redirected all traffic to godlovesfags.com. After much media attention, Phelps threatened to sue and the domain name was returned on August 21.
In 2005 and 2006 two God hates WBC sites were created. Both focus on the debate surrounding religion and homosexuality.
A satire website called God Hates Shrimp was created in 2004 in response to WBC’s inflammatory website. The website cites Leviticus 11:10, the same book and section that labels sodomy as an abomination, where it says “And all that have not fins and scales in the seas, and in the rivers, of all that move in the waters, and of any living thing which is in the waters, they shall be an abomination unto you”. The website argues that this means Long John Silver’s and Red Lobster restaurants should likewise be picketed by WBC. Another satirical site, God Hates Figs, was created noting that Jesus struck a fig tree dead in one biblical account. In a similar vein, God Hates Bags was created, but it lacks the Biblical backing of the site on figs.
God hates everyone except for us follows the exploits of the fictional “Eastboro Baptist Church” of Topeka Kansas, who are in a constant struggle to be more hateful than the Westboro Baptist Church.
Journalist Charles Firth of Australian television enterprise 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 innuendos became obvious.
Michael Moore organized a humorous counterprotest against the church for his TV Show The Awful Truth. He followed Phelps around the country in “the Sodomobile,” a pink bus filled with homosexuals. They even, at one point, get to meet Fred Phelps and Moore introduces the Sodomobile to him.
Shirley Phelps-Roper and her children have also been parodied many times on The Howard Stern Show, where their extreme views are used to contribute to the environment of the program.
Periodically, Shirley Phelps-Roper and her daughters are call in guests on The Adam Carolla Show morning radio show. They would call in and sing hateful songs but would be insulted by Adam and company.
In the 2007 film I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry, a WBC-esque group holds a protest at a party. The group’s leader (Rob Corddry) uses the term “faggots” and is assaulted by Adam Sandler’s character.
A small number of Phelps’ critics have suggested, however, that the actions of the Westboro Baptist Church are 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. 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.
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. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), an anti-hate group, has added the Westboro Baptist Church to its list of hate groups. Many mainstream conservative and fundamentalist Christians (including those who oppose homosexuality, such as 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.
The metalcore band Between the Buried and Me wrote the song “Arsonist” off their self-titled album for the Westboro Baptist Church, to attack their practices.
Opposition to Westboro’s theology
Mainstream Calvinist churches have claimed that Westboro’s agenda and its message of hate are at variance with Calvinism, as well as all fundamental Christian theology. Westboro has been labeled as a cult by many Christian ministries; 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.
Additional media coverage
For such a small group WBC receives attention from major media organizations. WBC is proud of their media coverage and comments on most media coverage, no matter how negative, on their web site.
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. In the testimonial, Libby and Jael explain that they hope and pray that no one outside of Westboro becomes “elect,” because they want everyone else in the world to die horribly and burn in Hell, and that even if they didn’t believe their actions were dictated by God, they would still do and enjoy them anyway. 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. His daughter, Shirley Phelps-Roper appeared on Fox News’ Hannity & Colmes show on April 18, 2006 to defend the WBC protests. 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!” 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 mike had to be regularly cut to give Tatchell a chance to speak.
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. Theroux has presented a number of documentaries about unusual or unconventional people and groups in the UK, the US, and elsewhere. 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.
On January 24, 2008, after the death of actor Heath Ledger, Australian radio station 2Day FM’s Kyle and Jackie O verbally clashed with a woman 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. The church responded on February 1, 2008, claiming that they would release the website godhatesaustralia.com and saw nothing wrong with their stance.
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