One of the groups you’ll see mentioned occasionally on the front page of this website, in the current events blog entries, is the Westboro Baptist Church. Why do we discuss them, when they are not a Pagan group? Because they’re one of the loudest and most publicly known evangelical hate groups in the country. Ostensibly claiming to be “Baptist,” most Christians agree that the members of Westboro do not speak for other members of the religion. In fact, many Christians have publicly stated that the actions of Westboro’s extremist members are in direct contradiction to the teachings of Jesus.
Founded in Topeka by Fred Phelps, WBC is comprised mostly of his children and grandchildren, and has less than a hundred members. However, the group has become newsworthy predominantly because of their vocal anti-gay stance and their practice of picketing funerals. Typically, they appear with signs displaying hateful messages, and try to get on the news as often as possible. Their message appears to be that God is punishing America for the country’s tolerance of homosexuality.
WBC first attracted national attention in the late 1990s, when they went to Wyoming to protest outside the funeral of college student Matthew Shepard, who was beaten to death for being gay. They have protested a number of military funerals as well, saying that dead soldiers are God’s was of punishing America for abandoning Biblical morality. They have protested a few celebrity funerals as well, including those of singer Michael Jackson, comedian George Carlin, and heavy metal musician Ronnie James Dio.
In addition to funerals, the group travels around America protesting other events, including rock concerts, entertainment festivals, natural disasters such as tornadoes and hurricanes, and Jewish Holocaust memorial services. In general, the Westboro philosophy seems to be that any group which does not outright condemn homosexuality is doomed to burn in hell, and must be the target of a WBC protest.
The Westboro Baptist Church doesn’t just limit its hate to the gay community. They also have stances against Catholicism, Protestants, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and Mormons. Spokeswoman Margie Phelps, daughter of Fred Phelps and one of the group’s most vocal members, has publicly stated that President Barack Obama is the anti-Christ, and that his election to the White House is in fact a sign of the coming apocalypse.
Of note, the Westboro Baptist Church has gotten a good deal of attention for treading the line between free speech and invading a family’s right to privacy. In 2007, the group was sued by Al Snyder for protesting the funeral of his son, a soldier killed in action. Although the court originally ruled in Snyder’s favor, WBC countersued, and Snyder was later ordered to pay WBC’s court costs. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, and the eventual ruling was in favor of Westboro’s right to free speech.
Fortunately, the Westboro members do not speak for the majority of Christians, and a number of Christians have stood up and spoken out against the WBC. At several recent funerals, groups such as the Patriot Guard and Line of Love have blocked the group’s access to grieving families. Other organizations have turned WBC protests into fundraising and education opportunities, such as the LGBT group in Wyoming who took donations for every minute WBC protested against a production of The Laramie Project, raising nearly $5,000 to help at-risk LGBT youth.
Index of news stories we’ve covered here at About Pagan/Wiccan regarding the Westboro Baptist Church:
- Foo Fighters Protest WBC
- 4-8-2011: First Amendment Rights vs. Being a Jerk
- 3-18-2011: Fred Phelps’ Son Says Dad is “Evil”
- 3-2-2011: SCOTUS Rules in Favor of WBC
- 1-11-2011: “Angels” to Protest WBC Funeral Picket
- 11-7-2010: Community Blocks Westboro Funeral Protest
- 10-11-2010: Free Speech in Topeka
- 10-7-2010: SCOTUS Looks at Funeral Protest Case
- 9-20-2010: Mashup Turns Hate into Love
- 7-24-2010: Comic Books vs. Westboro Baptist
- 4-13-2010: Schools Organize Counterprotest Against WBC
- 3-31-2010: Marine’s Father Ordered to Pay WBC
- 6-27-2008: Hatemongers to Protest Carlin Funeral
- 11-17-2007: Westboro Baptist Church Whines Some More
- 10-31-2007: Church Ordered to Pay Up After Protests