Westboro Baptist Church
The Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) is a radical, self-proclaimed Primitive Baptist church located in Topeka, Kansas, and receives most of its publicity from its infamous "God Hates Fags" protests. It was founded in 1955, and began picketing in 1991. It consists of a family of lawyers working for the Phelps Chartered Law Firm who reap massive monetary awards from suing those they rile up. The "church" is draped with an upside-down American Flag, and is contained within a walled compound housing it and five homes. The ACLU has filed lawsuits in Ohio and Missouri on behalf of Westboro's activities without success.
Westboro was founded as an Independent Baptist church plant of the East Side Baptist Church; Fred Phelps, an associate minister at East Side became its pastor. Early on his vitriol became apparent; as a result the majority of members who originally joined Westboro to help it become an autonomous congregation returned to East Side or joined elsewhere, leaving only the families of Phelps and Karl Hockenberger and a handful of other persons remaining. According to Phelps' estranged son Nathan (who after leaving the church became an atheist), Phelps was reportedly excommunicated right before his death, for supposedly recanting his position on homosexuality (this was confirmed by son Mark, who also left the membership); Westboro refused to confirm or deny the matter. Also, no member of his family that had left the church was allowed to visit him in his final days, as confirmed by Megan Phelps-Roger, Phelps' granddaughter who has also left the church. No fewer than four of Phelps' children and at least two of his grandchildren have left the church; all of them have also renounced Christianity.
The WBC is closely monitored by both the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center, and is regarded by the latter as a hate group. While mainstream Christianity rejects homosexuality as sin, following God's example, true Christians love the sinner. In contrast, WBC demonstrates no love for the sinner, and their attitude is considered to be one of hate. While the name implies that the church is affiliated with other mainstream Baptist churches, the WBC is independent of mainstream Christianity, and is denounced by even some of the most anti-LGBT Independent Baptist churches. The church's membership consists almost entirely of family members and are infamous for their protests and pickets at the funerals of soldiers who died in the line of duty, where they take the opportunity to denounce what they consider to be America's acceptance of homosexuality. The name of their website reflects this. Their antics are denounced across almost all spectra of political and religious thought. Their hatred, and seeking of publicity, goes beyond homosexuality. They also protest military funerals, high school graduation ceremonies, liberal and conservative political rallies, and religious ceremonies, including services at actual Baptist churches. The group even protested the Pope's visit, calling him the anti-Christ.
Phelps Chartered Law Firm
For a more detailed treatment, see Phelps Chartered Law Firm.
Fred Phelps graduated from Washburn University School of Law in Topeka in 1962 and designed his church/family as a giant law firm used to sue those angry enough to retaliate against the "church" or to bar its offensive activities from their communities. Eleven of Phelps' thirteen children are lawyers. All five of the attorneys for the Phelps Chartered Law Firm, which Fred Phelps founded in 1964, are his children. The firm is located at 1414 S.W. Topeka Blvd. in Topeka, Kansas.
|“|| "'They scrupulously obeyed the ordinance' that kept them and their 'God hates fags' and 'America is doomed' signs away from the funeral of Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, said Mark Potok, who directs Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project. 'They're good at this,' Potok said, noting that the family has successfully sued many communities for monetary damages after they tried to restrict the family's constitutionally protected protests. 'They understand the First Amendment very, very well. They are not stupid people. They are vile people.'"
-Andrea Stone, AOL News
The Kansas Supreme Court disbarred Fred Phelps himself in 1979 for a lack of ethics; he agreed to stop practicing law on condition 5 of his children (accused of making false accusations against federal judges) could continue to do so. Because the firm represents Westboro Baptist Church in its lawsuits, it can use money from cases it wins to further fund the church.
|“|| "'They have a very well-respected law firm in Topeka,' Sherman says. 'People in town said, Well, we don't like them, but if we want to win a case, we'll go to them.' Church spokeswoman Phelps-Roper says their booming employment and family law practice pays the bills for their travels across the country, when they shout their anti-gay message. They travel in vans to keep down the costs, which she says can add up to $200,000 a year... The protests are in themselves a source of some income, according to Potok. Over the years the Phelpses have filed lawsuits against communities that try to stop them from demonstrating. 'And as a general matter they have won,' he says. 'They know their First Amendment rights very well, and they've been very good at defending them.' When they win, they often receive tens of thousands of dollars in court fees. And their winning streak is likely to continue, now that the Supreme Court has decided that Westboro's right to free speech trumps the right of families to bury their loved ones undisturbed."
-Barbara Bradley Hagerty, NPR
Westboro's membership consists of 9 of 13 children of the late Fred Phelps (the others are estranged), their children and spouses, and a few other families and individuals. Almost all of the church's roughly 100 members are related to Fred Phelps. All four of Phelps' estranged children asserted in 1993-94 interviews that their father's religious beliefs were either non-existent or had dwindled to virtually nothing, and that Westboro serves rather to sate Phelps' addiction to hatred. Members of the family and their relationships to Fred Phelps include:
- Shirley Lynn Phelps-Roper, daughter. Spokeswoman for the church, says that they picket funerals to make people angry so people will reject God and be condemned to Hell, effectively making their protests a Satanic ritual. Lawyer for Phelps' law firm.
- Jonathan Baxter Phelps, son. Lawyer for Phelps' law firm.
- Elizabeth Marie Phelps, daughter. Worked for Shawnee County Sheriff's Department and a lawyer for Phelps' law firm.
- Rachel Hockenbarger, daughter. Lawyer at Phelps' law firm.
- Fred W. Phelps Jr., son. Works for Kansas' Department of Corrections as a staff attorney and a lawyer for Phelps' law firm.
- Margie Jean Phelps, daughter. Works for the Kansas' Department of Corrections, and a lawyer for Phelps' law firm.
- Katherine Phelps, daughter (estranged).
- Dotty Phelps, daughter (estranged).
- Abigail Phelps, . Worked in Kansas' Juvenile Justice Authority in staff development.
- Lee Ann Phelps, . Worked for Shawnee County Sheriff's Department.
- Brent Roper, son in law. Married to Shirley Phelps-Roper, they have 11 children and 9 grandchildren.
- Betty Joan Phelps, daughter in law. Married to Fred W. Phelps Jr. and a lawyer for Phelps' law firm.
- Paulette Phelps, daughter in law. Married to Jonathan Baxter Phelps and works at Phelps' law firm as an office assistant.
- Benjamin Phelps, grandson.
- Jacob Phelps, grandson.
- Charles F. Hockenbarger, .
- Chris Davis, .
- Karl Hockenbarger, .
- Timothy Phelps, .
Members of the family who left the church and their relationship to Fred Phelps Sr. are as follows:
- Nathan Phelps, son. Nathan claims his father abused his children and wife to create an atmosphere of fear and maintain authority. He later became an obese atheist and supporter of homosexuality.
- Mark Phelps, son.
- Katherine Phelps, daughter.
- Libby Phelps, granddaughter. Married to Logan Alvarez.
- Megan Phelps-Roper, granddaughter. Daughter of Shirley Lynn Phelps-Roper. She left along with her sister Grace. Megan has also left Christianity, claiming she could no longer believe the Bible to be true.
Around 2001 the family of Steve Drain, who was working on a documentary critical of Westboro, joined the church. Daughter Lauren was excommunicated in 2008 for questioning church doctrine and later published a book based on her experiences. Though she continues to identify as a Christian she does so as a liberal one, as she supports the pro-homosexual NOH8 Campaign.
Westboro has protested or otherwise targeted the following:
|“|| Calling from New York City where she was protesting at the United Nations building, church spokeswoman Shirley Phelps-Roper said she was happy Albert Snyder, the Marine's father, had filed the lawsuit. "If he hadn't put us on trial, we wouldn't have exploded around the world," she said of the media exposure.
-James Carlson and Kevin Elliott, Topeka Capital-Journal.
- Homosexuals, including Matthew Shepard, Ellen DeGeneres, and Diane Whipple.
- Billy Graham.
- Victims of 9/11.
- Victims of the Virginia Tech massacre.
- Victims of the Westroads Mall massacre.
- Victims of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake.
- U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan including Spc. Edward Myers.
- The 17 soldiers killed aboard the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000.
- Amish schoolgirls murdered in Pennsylvania.
- Victims who died when the I-35W Mississippi River bridge collapsed.
- The Catholic Pope and the Catholic Church.
- AIDS victims including Kevin Oldham.
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) and the funeral of Gordon B. Hinckley its former president.
- Islam and Muslims.
- The Ku Klux Klan.
- Santa Claus.
- Celebrities, including Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, Sonny Bono, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Fred Rogers, Reggie White, Jerry Falwell, Frank Sinatra, Heath Ledger, Coretta Scott King, and Billy Graham
- Political figures, including Bob Dole, Bill Clinton's mother, Ronald Reagan, Princess Diana, Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist, former Senator David Norris, Topeka Mayor James McClinton, Princess Madeleine of Sweden, and Donald Trump
- The nations of Israel, Sweden, Canada, and Ireland.
- Joseph Estabrook Elementary School in Massachusetts.
The views of the Church on religion, society, and sexuality are so bizarre that it is hard to categorize their members in terms of normal political leanings.
The Westboro Church helped run Al Gore's Kansas campaign in 1988. Fred Phelps Jr. was a Gore delegate to the 1988 Democratic National Convention and invited to the first Clinton-Gore inauguration in 1993.
Margie Phelps stated on Fox News in 2011 that "Obama is ‘The Beast’ from Revelation".
Snyder v. Phelps
In 2011 the church's speech - that is, their picketing of funerals - was ruled as protected by the First Amendment in the case Snyder v. Phelps. The Church, represented by daughter of the pastor Shirley Phelps, had picketed a Marine's funeral, and the Marine's father had sued for intentional infliction of emotional distress. The ACLU and NPR, amongst others, had filed amicus briefs in favor of Phelps, while many Congressmen filed on behalf of Snyder. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, "As a Nation we have chosen a different course—to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate. That choice requires that we shield Westboro from tort liability for its picketing in this case."
- Stone, A. (2011, May 3). Fred Phelps' Daughters May Misread Bible but They Know the Law. AOL News.
- Southern Poverty Law Center. Fred Phelps. Intelligence Profiles.
- Intelligence Files: Westboro Baptist Church. Southern Poverty Law Center.
- About Fred Phelps. FredPhelps.com.
- Fry, S. (2010, October 5). Powder Sent to Phelps Law Firm. The Topeka Capital-Journal.
- Hagerty, B.B. (2011, March 2). A Peek Inside the Westboro Baptist Church. NPR.
- Taschler, J. & Fry, S. (1994, August 3). Phelps' Law Career Checkered. The Topeka Capital-Journal.
- About Westboro Baptist Church. FredPhelps.com.
- Southern Poverty Law Center. Fred Phelps Timeline. Intelligence Report, Spring 2001, Issue Number: 101.
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- Carlson, J. & Elliott, K. (2009, September 24). Court Overturns WBC Judgment. The Topeka Capital-Journal.
- Obama is the Beast From Revelation, Rawstory.com, March 6, 2011
- The Westboro Baptist Church Losers Say They Love Obama And Hate The Tea Party, RightwingNews.com, October 24, 2013
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