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Westboro-church1

The Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas.

The Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) is an independent Baptist church and anti-gay hate group.[1][2][3][4] It was founded and headed by Fred Phelps until his death in March 2014. It is located in Topeka, Kansas, USA. Its first public service was held on the afternoon of Sunday, November 27, 1955.

The 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 The WBC and Phelps.[5]

The group is primarily known for its protest activities, which include stomping on the American flag[6] and the provocative signs its members carry while picketing....

Protest activities

The organization is known for picketing at public events and funerals, often those related or peripherally related to gay people or soldiers in the military.

The group carries out daily picketing in Topeka (purportedly six per day with fifteen on Sunday and travels nationally to picket the funerals of gay victims of murder, gay-bashing or people who have died from complications relating to AIDS; other events related or peripherally related to gay people; Kansas City Chiefs American football games; and live pop concerts. As of March 2009 the church claims to have participated in over 41,000 protests in over 650 cities since 1991. One of Westboro's followers estimated that the church spends $250,000 a year on picketing.[7]

The pickets have resulted in several lawsuits. 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.[8] 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, and was awarded approximately $200,000 in attorney's fees and costs associated with the litigation. 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 during an attempted protest.[9] In response to pickets at funerals, Kansas passed a law prohibiting picketing at such events. In the autumn of 2007, the father of a US Marine whose funeral was picketed by the WBC was awarded $5 million in damages.[10][11] In June 2007 Shirley Phelps-Roper was arrested in Nebraska 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, 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.[12] 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.

On two occasions, the church accepted offers for radio air time in exchange for canceling an announced protest.[13][14]

Anti-gay picketing

While being filmed by documentary film-maker Louis Theroux, they picketed a local appliance store because it sold Swedish vacuum cleaners, which transaction the church viewed as supportive of gays because of Swedish prosecution of Åke Green, a pastor critical of homosexuality.[15]

The church has picketed, or threatened to picket, productions of the play The Laramie Project, which was based on the murder of Matthew Shepard, whose funeral they also picketed.[16][17]

On January 25, 2004, Phelps picketed five churches (three Catholic and two Episcopalian) and the Federal Courthouse for what he said was their part in legitimizing same-sex marriages in Iowa. A community response was to hold counter-protests and a multifaith service in the municipal auditorium. [18]

On January 15, 2006, Westboro members protested a memorial for 2006 Sago Mine disaster victims, claiming that the mining accident was God's revenge against America for its tolerance of homosexuality.[19]

Funeral pickets

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.[20] Westboro has protested at the funerals of people ranging from Fred Rogers[21] to Coretta Scott King to Jerry Falwell.

In July 2005 the Westboro Baptist Church declared its intention to picket the memorial service of Carrie French in Boise, Idaho. French, 19, was killed on June 5 in Kirkuk, Iraq, where she served as an ammunition specialist with the 116th Brigade Combat Team's 145th Support Battalion. 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."[22]

In August 2005, a group from the church protested at the funeral of Edward Myers, a soldier from St. Joseph, Missouri, who died in Iraq. Shirley Phelps-Roper told a television reporter that Myers was "burning in Hell."[23]

On February 2, 2008, the group picketed during the funeral of former LDS Church president Gordon B. Hinckley in Salt Lake City, Utah, displaying picket signs criticizing him for being a "lying false prophet" and "leading millions of people astray." The organization also criticized Hinckley for being too accepting of gay people, accusing him of having an ambiguous voice about homosexuality rather than taking a firm stand against it.[24] Police had difficulty determining whether the demonstration met the guidelines of protected free speech."[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]

In August 2008, Westboro announced plans to protest in Winnipeg, Canada at the funeral of Tim McLean, who had been murdered on a Greyhound Canada bus.[27] While a small number of Church members succeeded in crossing the border despite orders to prevent them from entering Canada, they did not appear at the funeral.[28]

In February 2009, the group protested at the funeral of a plane crash victim. 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 Phelpses. A motorcycle brigade, known as the Patriot Guard Riders, is known for revving its engines to drown out the Phelpses.[29]

Westboro picketed the funeral of recording artist Michael Jackson after his unexpected death on June 25, 2009.[30] Members of the Westboro Baptist Church have also recorded a song titled "God Hates the World", an adaptation of Jackson's charity single "We Are the World."[31]

Other protest activities

On January 26, 2008 WBC 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.[32] Another counter protest was held across town, which attracted over 150 counterprotesters.

On May 14, 2008, two days after the deadly 2008 Sichuan earthquake, WBC issued a press release thanking God for the heavy loss of life in China, and praying "for many more earthquakes to kill many more thousands of impudent and ungrateful Chinese Communists".[33]

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.[34][35] 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 traveled to Los Angeles to protest the Academy Awards because one of the films nominated (Milk) was about a gay man.

Church views

The Westboro Baptist Church considers 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." All non-Christian entities, non-Protestant Christian churches, and all Protestant Christian churches that do not strongly condemn homosexuality are said to be sending their members to Hell.

Westboro Baptist Church is monitored by the Anti-Defamation League,[36] and classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.[37][38]

Purpose of protests and church actions

In the BBC documentary The Most Hated Family in America, filmmaker Louis Theroux questioned Shirley Phelps-Roper as to whether she had considered that Westboro's technique of protests were more likely to "put people off the Word of Jesus Christ and the Bible."

In response, Phelps-Roper said as to the purpose of the protests, "You think our job is to win souls to Christ. All we do, by getting in their face and putting these signs in front of them and these plain words, is make what's already in their heart come out of their mouth."[39]

Later in the documentary, Phelps-Roper agrees that the $200,000 the church annually spends to fly to funerals to protest was money spent to spread "God's hate."[39]

Views on homosexuality

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

The group bases its work around the belief expressed by its best known slogan and the address of its primary Web site, God Hates Fags, asserting that 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 gays above all other kinds of "sinners".

Views on religions

Catholicism

Westboro claims 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."

The WBC describes the Roman Catholic Church as, “the largest, most well-funded and organized pedophile group in the history of man” 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.”

Protestantism

Though the main purpose of the Priests Rape Boys website is to criticize Catholicism, 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 . . . “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!”

Eastern Orthodoxy

The WBC claims that Orthodox Christians are indistinguishable from Roman Catholics. The WBC criticizes the Eastern Orthodox Church's use of icons, claiming that they constitute idolatry. The WBC also criticizes veneration of the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos, saying, “There is no scripture that supports bowing down to kiss images . . . or praying to Mary! She was a human being, who God predestinated to bring forth the Lord Jesus Christ, and to raise him."

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:

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!

In relation to the war in Iraq a WBC flier implies that God has sided with those attacking American troops:

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.

Hinduism

The WBC maintains a God Hates India website where they state that "80% of India’s population claim to practice Hinduism . . . 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!"

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!"

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."

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.[40]

Also in 1996, Phelps began a campaign called "Topeka's Baptist Holocaust", whereby he attempted to draw attention to attacks perpetrated 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."[41]

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."[42]

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

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.[43] Phelps has also been targeted by the Anti-Defamation League for his anti-Semitic statements.[43][44]

On May 8, 2009, members of the church protested at three Jewish sites in Washington, D.C., including the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) offices, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and the city's largest synagogue. Margie Phelps, daughter of Pastor Fred Phelps, led the protest, holding signs stating that “God Hates Israel,” “Jews Killed Jesus,” “America Is Doomed,” “Israel Is Doomed,” and “ADL Jew Bullies.” The protest was apparently part of a series of upcoming protests which the church has planned at Jewish institutions in Omaha, St. Louis, South Florida and Providence. The group reportedly posted a list of the upcoming protests' locations and dates, along with the statement “Jews Killed the Lord Jesus.”[45] In an interview, Margie Phelps said that her church was targeting the American Jewish community because church members had “testified” to gentiles for 19 years that “America is doomed” and that “Now it's too late. We're done with them.” Phelps also claimed Jews were "one of the loudest voices" in favor of homosexuality and abortion and that “[Jews] claim to be God's chosen people. Do you think that God is going to wink at that forever?” Phelps concluded by stating, in an apparent reference to the Book of Revelation, that all the nations of the world would soon march on Israel, and that they would be led by President Barack Obama, whom she called the “Antichrist.”[45]

Views on race and ethnicity

Founder Fred Phelps was a veteran of the Civil Rights movement,[46] and the Church attempts to distance itself from racism. However, 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, for example, it portrayed him as a gorilla with a Nazi swastika armband.[47]

On the subject of neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan, 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.

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.

The Church also runs the website www.GodHatesIreland.com on which it states that Ireland "...have allowed their fags to establish themselves at every level of society, especially in the government" The website goes on to say that: "about 10% of the population of Ireland are fags or dykes, the other 90% are most assuredly their soul-condemning enablers". Much of their criticism has been directed at the left-wing Protestant Senator David Norris, a prominent LGBT rights activist.[48]

Responses

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,[49] and while members of the church had traveled to Kokomo to protest, they were not seen during or after the funeral service.

South Dakota adopted similar legislation. WBC has expressed its intention to contest such 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.[50]

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.[51]

Lawsuit against WBC - funeral pickets ruled protected speech

On March 10, 2006 WBC picketed the funeral of Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder.[52][53]On June 5, 2006 the Snyder family sued[54] Fred Phelps, WBC, and unnamed others for defamation, invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. On October 31, 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.[55][56][57]

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.[58][59]

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."[60]

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."[61] 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.[62] 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 judgment now stands at $5 million. An appeal by WBC is still pending.[63] Liens have been ordered on church buildings and Phelps' law office in an attempt to ensure that the damages are paid.[64]

On September 24, 2009, a federal appeals court ruled in favor of Westboro Baptist Church. Their picket near the funeral of Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder is protected speech and did not violate the privacy of the service member's family, reversing a lower court's $5 million award.[65]

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.[66] The township has now stated that it will not pursue the matter.

Banned from entering the UK

In February 2009, UK news sources[67] 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, England on February 20, 2009. This would have been their first ever picket in the UK[68].

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[69], requesting these individuals be blocked from entering the UK[70], 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‘[71][72][73].

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."[74][75]

Counter protests

Counter protests are generally organized to be held 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.

In 1999, 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 introduced the Sodomobile to him.[76][77]

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.[78] 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 fifteen minutes into their scheduled one 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 three 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".[26]

On February 5, 2009, the students of a Prairie Village, Kansas high school staged a counter-protest[79] 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.[80]

On June 15, 2009, the group held a protest at Garfield High School in Seattle, Washington, where they waved placards with slogans such as "Bitch Burger," "You Will Eat Your Babies," "God Is Your Enemy," and "The Jews Killed Jesus"[81]. They were met by hundreds of students who counter-demonstrated with slogans of their own, such as "Don't Hate on Our Youth" and "Our Diversity Makes Us Stronger"[81]. As at other protests, Phelps' group occupied one corner on a street, and the students occupied the opposite corner, separated by police barriers[81].

Violence directed against the WBC

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.[82][83]

Early in the morning of August 2, 2008, someone set fire to a garage near the Westboro Baptist Church, causing an estimated $20–30K in damage.[84][85]

In Louis Theroux's documentary The Most Hated Family in America, a vehicle drove past the group during a picket and threw a drink at them.[39]

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.

Criticism

A number of Phelps' critics have suggested 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.[86] 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.[36] The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), an anti-discrimination group, has added the Westboro Baptist Church to its list of hate groups.[37] 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.[87]

Opposition to Westboro's theology

Westboro has been labeled as a cult by the website apologeticsindex.org;[88] 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.[89]

Additional media coverage

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.[90] In the testimonial, Libby and Jael explain that they hope and pray that no one outside of Westboro becomes "elect,"[90] because they want everyone else in the world to die horribly and burn in Hell,[90] and that even if they did not believe their actions were dictated by God, they would still do and enjoy them anyway.[90] 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 quickly cut after ranting about God's damnation of the U.S. instead of answering a question.[91] His daughter Shirley Phelps-Roper appeared on Fox News' Hannity & Colmes show on April 18, 2006 to defend the WBC protests.[92] 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!"[93] Another Fox News host, Bill O'Reilly, on his show The O'Reilly Factor often 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, Phelps-Roper 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 Phelps-Roper, 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 microphone 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.[94]

On April 1, 2007, the British television channel BBC Two broadcast Louis Theroux: The Most Hated Family in America.[95] Theroux has presented a number of documentaries about unusual or unconventional people and groups in the UK, the US and elsewhere.[96] 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.[97] The church responded on February 1, 2008, claiming that they would release the website godhatesaustralia.com and saw nothing wrong with their stance.[98]

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.

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[99], as well as a Toronto performance of The Pastor Phelps Project, a play by Alistair Newton which satirizes the church and its protest tactics.[100]

The church has been called a "fanatical American church"[101] and a "fringe religious group"[102] in the Canadian press in reference to the "crazy",[103] "hated"[104] 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. [105][106]

The group features in the film Brüno where they are accosted by the title character and his gay lover whilst requiring assistance after becoming comically trapped in elaborate bondage equipment.

See also

References

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External links

Media coverage

Criticism of WBC

Defenses of WBC

Parodies

  • 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
  • God Hates Figs, an anti-fig parody, based on several Bible passages
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This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Westboro Baptist Church. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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