Westboro Church petition highlights group’s flaws

As if the obvious tragedy of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut was not enough misery, a Kansas-based group called the Westboro Baptist Church used this nightmare as a platform to present even more pain. Margie Phelps, spokesperson of the group and daughter of its patriarchal leader, announced after the shooting that Westboro Baptist Church would conduct a protest at the funeral of a little girl who was gunned down in the school.

Led by 83-year-old pastor and disbarred lawyer Fred Phelps, Westboro Baptist Church is known for hate speech largely of an anti-homosexuality nature. Another daughter of Fred Phelps, Westboro member Shirley Phelps-Roper, says that the group’s reason for picketing tragedies, such as Hurricane Sandy and the Newtown, Conn. massacre, is “to sing praise to God for the glory of his work in executing his judgment.”

Fortunately for those disgusted with Westboro, the “hacktivist” group Anonymous, which engages in forms of online vigilantism, targeted the Phelps clan after Westboro announced that they intended to picket the funerals of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Beyond the mischievously humorous act of vandalizing a Westboro-run Twitter profile, Anonymous also hacked into the church’s offensively named website, godhatesfags.com, and released personal information about its members. Phone numbers and addresses were released online for anyone to see.

Potentially even more devastating to Westboro, however, was Anonymous’ drafting of two formal petitions on the White House’s official website. Both petitions have received enough signatures to qualify for review by President Barack Obama.

The first petition aims to strip Westboro Baptist of its tax-exempt status, thereby helping silence the group by draining its financial resources. Since its creation in December, this petition has reached the appropriate number of e-signatures to be officially reviewed by the government.

The second petition seeks to have Westboro’s official designation as a religious organization replaced with that of a hate group. As a legally defined hate group, Westboro’s rights would be severely cut and  it would also be stripped of its tax-exempt status. At over 310,000 signatures, this petition is the most-signed document on the White House website and can be found through the government’s official online petition portal.

Believing that any form of violent tragedy is the Lord’s divine punishment for America’s tolerance of homosexuality, Westboro Baptist Church has received widespread criticism from both secular as well as religious organizations. LGBT groups often organize counterprotests at many of Westboro’s anti-homosexuality pickets. But it is not only traditionally peaceful groups that find problems with the Phelps’ organization. The Klu Klux Klan even engaged in a counterprotest against a Westboro picket at the Arlington National Cemetery. Not many organizations bordering on being hate groups can say that even the KKK despises them.

Despite the virtually unanimous disapproval of Westboro Baptist Church, it is worth mentioning that the group only boasts about 40 members — most of whom belong to the extended Phelps family. In fact, many of Westboro’s pickets involve fewer than 10 members of the church. Put in this context, the group’s constant presence in the news can start to seem ridiculous to some; does this small handful of protesters really deserve the attention they get from the media? How is it even possible that such a small community has caused the stir it has?

Then again, the church only needs to respond to one event — such as the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy — to cause enough pain to warrant national attention.

Free speech is important — very important. In countries without it, people to this very day are being put to death for being vocal about certain beliefs. Moreover, Americans are extremely lucky to posses such freedoms. But with great freedom should come great responsibility.

Yes, Westboro Baptist Church, as declared by the Supreme Court of the United States in Snyder v. Phelps, has every right to picket the funerals of all the dead children they can possibly desire. But should they? Can’t Americans humbly accept this power with the gentle obligation to not abuse it?

In time, more tragedies will strike the nation and Westboro Baptist Church will undoubtedly blame them on the LGBT community. But hopefully more will be done to check abuses of the First Amendment before more families need to suffer unnecessary pain at the funerals of their loved ones.


Will Beaton is a freshman majoring in English and linguistics. 

8 replies
  1. Melissa
    Melissa says:

    Where does one persons rights begin and another persons end? Yes, they have the right to protest or say whatever they want to BUT that does not mean someone HAS to listen to it. A person has a right to be laid to rest in peace. The family members have the right to mourn their loss. Their lack of compassion is disturbing. Just because you CAN do something doesn’t mean you SHOULD. A true Christian should know this. Which makes you question their real motives.

  2. Tonee
    Tonee says:

    Haha! XD It’s pretty bad when the KKK despises a hate group such as the WBC & we all know what they stand for! The WBC are a bunch of low-life scumbag cowards who if they think they’re going anywhere near Heaven are in for a huge surprise. I highly doubt that their god would appreciate them praising him for dead soldiers & murdered children nor would he appreciate them protesting at their funerals & shouting obscenities at their grieving friends & families.

  3. Joe Rizoli
    Joe Rizoli says:

    I don’t dispise this group, I praise them.
    The Bible book of Romans chapter 1 says God is on THEIR side:

    18God’s anger is revealed from heaven against all the sin and evil of the people whose evil ways prevent the truth from being known. 19God punishes them, because what can be known about God is plain to them, for God himself made it plain. 20 Ever since God created the world, his invisible qualities, both his eternal power and his divine nature, have been clearly seen; they are perceived in the things that God has made. So those people have no excuse at all! 21 They know God, but they do not give him the honor that belongs to him, nor do they thank him. Instead, their thoughts have become complete nonsense, and their empty minds are filled with darkness. 22They say they are wise, but they are fools; 23 instead of worshiping the immortal God, they worship images made to look like mortals or birds or animals or reptiles.
    24And so God has given those people over to do the filthy things their hearts desire, and they do shameful things with each other. 25They exchange the truth about God for a lie; they worship and serve what God has created instead of the Creator himself, who is to be praised forever! Amen.
    26Because they do this, God has given them over to shameful passions. Even the women pervert the natural use of their sex by unnatural acts. 27In the same way the men give up natural sexual relations with women and burn with passion for each other. Men do shameful things with each other, and as a result they bring upon themselves the punishment they deserve for their wrongdoing.
    28Because those people refuse to keep in mind the true knowledge about God, he has given them over to corrupted minds, so that they do the things that they should not do. 29They are filled with all kinds of wickedness, evil, greed, and vice; they are full of jealousy, murder, fighting, deceit, and malice. They gossip 30and speak evil of one another; they are hateful to God, insolent,[b] proud, and boastful; they think of more ways to do evil; they disobey their parents; 31they have no conscience; they do not keep their promises, and they show no kindness or pity for others. 32They know that God’s law says that people who live in this way deserve death. Yet, not only do they continue to do these very things, but they even approve of others who do them.

    • carol
      carol says:

      let him who is without sin cast the first stone. dare to claim you are one such person, go on, and break 1 of the 10 laws god saw fit to set in stone. not one of the parts interpreted by man but one of the bits god actually wrote personaly

      • Maya
        Maya says:

        When you can read this in the original language it was written in, come back and spout your opinion, but if you did read it in the original language you would see the meaning is a bit different.

  4. Manny
    Manny says:

    Will, we all despise this group of people. But some of your points are a bit too idealistic. You have to understand how this group retains its autonomy.

    Fred Phelps is a coward and a scumbag, but also a lawyer. Anonymous may be considered to be in a positive light here (let’s not act like they always are that way), but releasing the names, etc. only encourages people to do bad things. When these bad things happen, as they have (threatening calls, vandalism, etc.), it simply entitles Phelps & Co. to sue and obtain more money and notoriety (though not the good kind). Ultimately, this just leads to more publicity and more power for this group.

    The e-petitions put into effect by whitehouse.gov don’t mean anything. When is the last time any action was taken to address these, status, completion, or otherwise? The one release so far has been the ridiculous Death Star recognition petition. Jokes like this, while humorous, only serve to distract from the point of these petitions and make them seem inconsequential as a whole (which they are anyway: see the recent increase in signatures required). We’re made to think we are activists by signing these, but they mean nothing. I am more than in favor of labeling these people a hate group, but this again just gives them more publicity. They want this. The reason that this small community doesn’t go away is because we keep bringing them back into the picture.

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