This article was last updated on June 18, 2022
The church regularly pickets the funerals of dead soldiers. Their reasoning is that God is punishing America for accepting homosexuality and abandoning its moral imperatives. Not only do they show up with signs saying "God Hates Fags", they also have signs like "Thank God for dead soldiers". Their actions and their message are so hateful; it is surprising that Fred Phelps is still alive. Their protests have drawn the ire of many but any legal actions taken against Westboro have so far ended with the law siding on freedom of speech. It certainly brings a new light on the question of tolerance.
As I scan down a list of their "beliefs", these people seem to hate just about everybody on the planet. Blacks, Jews, gays, Roman Catholics, Protestants, nobody seems to have escaped. They even claim that President Barack Obama is the Antichrist. It is amazing to see the zeal, the determination, and obsessive fixation Phelps and his clan demonstrate in spreading their message. One would have to wonder whether or not Phelps is mentally unbalanced and has passed on this aberrant thinking to all members of his church.
It seems that the activities of the church have not gone unnoticed as several states have enacted laws which regulate how close one can be to a funeral when protesting or which make illegal the interruption of a funeral. Nevertheless, these legal attempts at controlling Westboro have only been partially successful and as the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reports, WBC considers any and every mention in the media as a victory.
Marine Lance Corporal Matthew A. Snyder
On March 10, 2006, WBC picketed the funeral of this soldier killed in Iraq. Albert Snyder, Matthew Snyder’s father, took exception to this and sued the church. In his case, Synder went after Westboro for 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" plus denouncing them for raising their son Catholic. Snyder further complained the defendants had turned his son’s funeral into a "media circus".
While the initial trial saw fit to award the Synder’s millions of dollars, appeals led the entire issue to the Supreme Court. Unfortunately, they ended up ruling in favour of the First Amendment and freedom of speech won the day. Westboro was free to continue. (Synder vs. Phelps)
Swedish Vacuum Cleaners
Louis Theroux is a documentary filmmaker who has done several series of films on, among other subjects, various fringe groups in our culture like neo-Nazis, UFO believers, survivalists, etc. He lived with and filmed the Phelps family for "The Most Hated Family in America", a 2007 BBC documentary on the Westboro Baptist Church. Mr. Theroux wrote an article about his time with the Phelps family for the Guardian newspaper and oddly enough, describes a family somewhat like the rest of us but whose head of the household holds some very strange beliefs which he has managed to instil in the rest of his relatives.
How strange? In 2003, a Swedish Pentecostal Christian pastor, Åke Green, was prosecuted for a hate crime as he was giving sermons which were overly critical of homosexuality. Fred Phelps picked up on this and made it a mission to denounce anything Swedish saying that the entire country of Sweden was pro-gay. Therous reported in the Guardian that Phelps and his crew picketed a local appliance store because it sold Swedish vacuum cleaners.
Counterprotests: Not Today, Fred
The Kansas Historical Society writes about September 11th:
The day after the terrorist attacks, Jared Dailey saw members of Reverend Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church picketing near his home in Topeka (Phelps is notorious for an anti-homosexual campaign which he has carried on in Kansas and other states since 1991). As had become common, members of the group were flying the American flag upside down and displaying signs proclaiming, "God Hates America." This was too much for 19 year-old Jared, who said he was raised to be patriotic and supportive of the United States. Compelled to react to Phelps’ message, Jared created his own sign from plywood. He began his protest alone on Wednesday, September 12, in front of Phelps’ home.
Jared’s sign simply read "Not Today Fred". Other joined Jared and within two days, 86 people were counter-protesting Westboro. This sign’s message has gone on to be repeated by others as a means of protesting Phelps.
Counterprotests: God Hates Figs
This humorous slogan, a variation of Phelps’ protest mantra, has also become a common counterprotest to Westboro. It also is accompanied by actual Bible verses.
Mark 11:12-14 (NIV): Jesus Curses a Fig Tree and Clears the Temple Courts
12 The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13 Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. 14 Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.
Freedom of Speech
How far do we go in permitting Freedom of Speech? At what point does one cross a line and one starts promoting hatred and/or violence? The web site Subverted Nation by Adam Austin promotes anti-Semitism. The Ku Klux Klan promotes white racism. That stuff is kind of scary, especially when you start seeing references to Hitler and the Nazis. Show me a swastika and I get a tad apprehensive.
However, Fred Phelps is so virulently anti-gay with such a bizarre, sometimes irrational message, I wonder if he doesn’t come across as more ridiculous than dangerous. Then again, after viewing some videos and listening to the bunch of them, I’m surprised how some counterprotesters keep their sense of humour without wanting to go over and slap Phelps silly.
Where to start? There seems to tons of examples of Westboro and its people saying and doing the nuttiest things.
Google videos: Fred Phelps
Evil Reverend Fred Phelps Diatribe Against Stewart/Colbert
Google videos: Shirley Phelps-Roper
GOD HATES FAGS!!!
Westboro and Fred Phelps are homophobia taken to the nth degree. They are so far out there; they are something of a caricature. Nevertheless, they are representative of an anti-gay sentiment which is very much a part of our society and its institutions; a sentiment which appears in various subtle shades of grey making it much harder to discern.
The Catholic church has taken a stance against homosexuality. In the province of Ontario, Canada, a Catholic school board bans gay-straight alliances even though the provincial Ministry of Education has introduced rules that mandate school boards to implement policies of student inclusion that allow gay and lesbian students to form clubs and support groups. Why? Such an idea goes against the teachings of the church. (see my blog The Halton Catholic School Board: a "gay" anachronism)
Phelps can be funny because he is so strange. He is interesting in an odd way due to the extremist nature of his views. However, at the end of the day, the world doesn’t need any more hate and the less we see of Phelps the better.
Wikipedia: Westboro Baptist Church
The Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) is an independent Baptist church known for its extreme stance against homosexuality and its protest activities, which include picketing funerals and desecrating the American flag. The church is widely described as a hate group and is monitored as such by the Anti-Defamation League and Southern Poverty Law Center. It is headed by Fred Phelps and consists mostly of members of his large family; in 2007, it had 71 members. The church is headquartered in a residential neighborhood on the west side of Topeka about three miles west of the Kansas State Capitol at 3701 West 12th Street, Topeka, Kansas, United States. Its first public service was held on the afternoon of Sunday, November 27, 1955.
Wikipedia: Fred Phelps
Fred Waldron Phelps, Sr. (born November 13, 1929) is an American pastor heading the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC), an independent Baptist church based in Topeka, Kansas. Phelps is a disbarred lawyer, founder of the Phelps Chartered law firm, a past civil rights activist in Kansas, and a Democrat who has five times been a candidate for political office in Kansas Democratic Party primaries.
The Guardian – March 2007
God’s Squad by Louis Theroux
Is Homosexuality Genetic or an Evil Force that Plays Mind Games with People?
by Pastor Åke Green
July 20, 2003 – Borgholm, Sweden
Is homosexuality something one chooses? Answer: YES. You choose it. You are not born into it. It is absolutely that way; otherwise it would be a betrayal of mankind. You voluntarily enter into this.
Louis Theroux – America’s Most Hated Family In Crisis
my blog: Freedom of Speech: Freedom to say anything?
Are we totally free to say anything we want without any consequences whatsoever? Can we be totally absolved of any responsibility, of any complicity in what transpires as a result of our words? Can we falsely yell "Fire!" in a crowded theater then in the ensuing panic say, "Hey! It’s not my fault you believed me."?
my blog: Abortionists: Murder by proxy
Pick somebody you don’t like. Find out their name, full address, other bits of contact information including their car, licence plate, where they work, possibly the date and times of their work schedule. Write it all up as a "wanted poster", sort of like in the Wild West. Carefully describe what horrible things this person supposedly does so there can be no doubt in anybody’s mind that this person is evil incarnate. Distribute the poster as far and wide as possible then stand back and wait for the results.
The Roman Catholic Church
Pastoral Guidelines for Students of Same Sex Orientation
[Only a man and a woman can be married. Only a married couple can have sex. Anybody else is chaste. Period.]
Sexual activity is truly meaningful only when it embodies and expresses marital love, love that is both fully committed and open to life, and it cannot do that outside of marriage for anyone, heterosexual or homosexual. This means that sexual activity which is outside marriage cannot be condoned, and is taught by the Church to be immoral. This includes masturbation, fornication and adultery, and sexual activity with a person of the same sex.