Anti-gay leader of Westboro Baptist Church, Fred Phelps, dies at 84
The Reverend Fred Phelps Sr., the founder and leader of the Westboro Baptist Church, a Kansas congregation renowned for their homophobic and hate-filled demonstrations, has died aged 84.
According to The Associated Press, daughter Margie Phelps said her father died around midnight Wednesday but did not reveal the cause of death.
Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church, whose members are made up almost entirely of Phelp’s large family, are known the world over for their anti-gay rethoric and, more importantly, the way they convey them.
According to the Westboro Baptist Church, every tragedy and misfortune in the world is God’s punishment for society’s intolerance of homosexuality.
The group is synonymous with their slogan, ‘God hates fags’, and runs numerous websites such as GodHatesFags.com and GodHatesAmerica.com, that openly condemns homosexuality.
Above: While picketing the funeral of a fallen US soldier, members of the Westboro Baptist Church are confronted by counter-protesters.
Phelps and his followers took their message out to the streets, picketing events like funerals of American service personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, holding signs that contain vile slurs such as ‘Thank God for dead soldiers’.
Over the years, Westboro garnered media attention for picketing high-profile events such as memorial services and pop concerts. Most recently, the group said they planned to picket Lorde’s upcoming concert in Kansas.
The group’s picketing have resulted in several lawsuits, most notably, a 2007 ruling that awarded a father of Marine whose funeral was picketed by the church $5 million in damages. It was later overturned in the federal appeals court.
Laws have since been implemented in several US states limiting picketing as a result of the Westboro Baptist Church’s activities.
Above: Overseen by non-profit organisation Planting Peace, The Equality House is situated across the street from the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas.
The group’s activities have prompted several high profile counter protests, including filmmaker Michael Moore’s infamous visit aboard a ‘Sodomobile’, a pink bus filled with gay men and women, to raise awareness against homophobia in the wake of the murder of Mathew Shepard.
A motorcyclist group made up mostly of war veterans called Patriot Guard Riders has also been formed to shelter and protect the funerals of US servicemen and women from Westboro protesters.
And in March last year, non-profit organisation Planting Peace purchased a house across the street from the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, and painted its exterior in the colours of the rainbow. Planting Peace says the Equality House is a symbol of compassion, peace, and positive change.