They carry signs with vile inscriptions: “God Hates Fags” and “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” as they protest at funerals around the United States. They are members of the Westboro Baptist Church, a community that is decidedly not Baptist.
Reverend Fred Phelps and his congregation of 100, including his children and his 45 grandchildren, rely on a team of lawyers who happen to be Fred Phelps’ adult children. He has thirteen children and eleven of them have law degrees.
Their high-profile law firm in Topeka, Kansas is the source of Westboro’s legal confidence as they exercise their free speech rights and also provides the church with funds to travel around the country to mount their vicious protests. Daughter and lawyer Margie Phelps confirms her family spends $250,000.00 every year to travel by van to protest locations.
Westboro captured the national media spotlight in 1998 when they picketed the funeral of Wyoming’s Matthew Sheppard who was murdered because he was homosexual. Since 1991 the church has conducted 41,000 protests in 650 towns and cities across America, focusing their attention on the funerals of fallen soldiers and gay men.
Westboro’s message is that America’s acceptance of homosexuality has created an angry God who is punishing the nation by allowing the death of many young men and women in the armed forces.
Reverend Phelps is himself a disbarred lawyer. He was disbarred many years ago for his oppressive, abusive treatment of a court witness and for committing perjury by filing false affidavits in a bid to defend himself in a bar disciplinary hearing relating to the abuse.
Residents of Topeka agree that when they are in trouble the Phelps law firm is where they go, despite their dislike of the firm’s repugnant activities.
Back in the media this week, the Phelps firm emerged the victors in a freedom of expression case heard by the United States Supreme Court last year. In an 8-1 decision, Margie Phelps convinced the high court that the Westboro Church were permitted by the Constitution to express their views, despite the public’s abhorrence of their message.
Westboro Church has vowed to redouble their protest efforts in light of this week’s Supreme Court ruling sanctioning their conduct.
Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang