The White House vs. Westboro Baptist Church
Shirley Phelps-Roper of Westboro Baptist Church protests. Despite disagreeing with the church, the White House says it can't label Westboro a hate group.
July 3rd, 2013
05:56 PM ET

The White House vs. Westboro Baptist Church

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Editor
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(CNN) –The Obama administration will not label Westboro Baptist Church a hate group, saying it's not the government's practice to apply the designation.

More than 367,000 petitioners had called on the White House to "Legally recognize Westboro Baptist Church as a hate group." For months the Westboro petition was the top petition on the White House's "We The People" website.

Four related petitions, including one calling for the Internal Revenue Service to revoke Westboro's tax exemption, also garnered more than 300,000 signatures.

A White House official, speaking on background, told CNN that petitions that cross the threshold of 100,000 signatures are reviewed by policy staff and receive a response.

On Tuesday, the White House posted its response to the Westboro petitions.

Officially, the response to the requested hate group designation was "no comment."

"As a matter of practice, the federal government doesn't maintain a list of hate groups," the White House said.

Instead, labeling hate groups is the job of private groups such as the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League, the White House said.

But the administration did comment on other aspects of the petitions, agreeing that protesting at military funerals - one of Westboro's favorite practices - is "reprehensible." An animated map posted online shows what the White House says is opposition to the church spreading across the country.

"We agree that practices such as protesting at the funerals of men and women who died in service to this country and preventing their families from mourning peacefully are reprehensible - a point that President Obama has made for years," the White House said.

In response to Westboro, Congress and Obama enacted a law in 2012 restricting protesters' time at, and proximity to, military funerals. The law followed a 2011 Supreme Court decision upholding Westboro's free speech rights to protest at funerals.

Led by its pastor, Fred Phelps, Westboro says soldiers' deaths are part of God's punishment on the United States for "the sin of homosexuality."

Members have traveled the country shouting at grieving families at funerals and displaying such signs as "Thank God for dead soldiers," "God blew up the troops" and "AIDS cures fags."

Westboro Baptist Church is not affiliated with a broader Baptist denomination. The autonomous church has 50 members, many of whom are members of the Phelps family.  The church says they have picketed more than 50,000 events.

A GIF map created by the White House highlights the ZIP codes of the people who signed the anti-Westboro petitions.  

The map shows heavy concentration of signers in Kansas and Connecticut, "two places that have unique insight into the actions of the Westboro Baptist Church," the White House said. The church is based in Topeka, Kansas. As for Connecticut, the Obama administration suggests the anti-Westboro animus stems from the church's threats to protest the funerals of students killed in December's Sandy Hook School shooting.

Gif Created on Make A Gif

Westboro responded to the petition on social media.

"About to swoon with glee! @whitehouse @barackobama telling the world about @WBCSays preachments!" they wrote, adding a picture of the president with horns and the title "AntiChrist Obama."


CNN's Bill Mears and Daniel Burke contributed to this report.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Belief • Christianity

soundoff (973 Responses)
  1. CLW

    There is no question that Westboro Baptist Church is a hate group because they discriminate and act in a hateful way towards military personnel. They segregate themselves and act superior to the fighting men and women of the United States. They are irrational and hateful people that have no respect for the community that protects our country and our people. The Westboro Baptist Church should be considered a hate group not only because they are malicious to soldiers and heroes that have fallen, but because the attack the innocent families and friends that are mourning the death of a loved one.

    October 20, 2013 at 9:41 pm |
  2. ブルガリ 財布 メンズ

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    August 1, 2013 at 3:28 pm |
  3. Anthony


    Sounds to me like just another one of their publicity stunts to get in front of the camera. It is not about spreading the word of God to the masses. Remember Jesus did not seek out fame and glory! http://bit.ly/18p984K

    July 19, 2013 at 3:04 pm |
  4. ronvan

    A group of "hatefull, misguided, misfits" that should have their tax exempt status revoked immediately! To show up at someone's funeral and completely disrespect it is disgusting! When are WE going to wake up and realize that OUR RIGHTS do have some limits?

    July 13, 2013 at 7:20 am |
  5. Saraswati

    The more I look into these people the more convinced I am that the leadership at least are just a group of con artists.

    July 11, 2013 at 8:56 am |
  6. Agnostickids

    God: "You have offended me! Here, have my son so that you can kill him so I can forgive you!"

    July 9, 2013 at 11:57 am |
    • Mona Octavri

      Jesus Christ, the son of God, knows more about the devil than any human

      And if you continue to refuse our Lord Jesus Christ, you will open yourself up to demonic spirits

      Then God the Father & the Son of God will give your soul over to Satan which is called "reprobate"

      July 9, 2013 at 2:26 pm |
      • Larry

        Jesus Christ, the son of God, knows more about the devil than any human--– The WBC would say they do.

        September 13, 2013 at 1:33 pm |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      LET's Religiosity Law #2 – If you use words and phrases like: "Insert whatever whack-job, derived from a bible verse, comment 'Mona Octavri' just made.” Then you are definitely mentally retarded.

      July 9, 2013 at 2:30 pm |
    • Agnostickids

      @ mona...you do realize that since I don't believe in your mythological jesus, I stand no risk whatsoever of being infected with your fear or psychosis.
      Keep writing things like you do and you'll manage to make a few more christians doubt their faith, wondering, why god would allow insanity to represent him.

      July 10, 2013 at 8:30 am |
    • Jane

      As an agnostic, I'd think you'd post that your belief in demons has no reliationship to if there actually are any.

      Minor point..carry on. 😉

      July 12, 2013 at 8:41 pm |
  7. Agnostickids

    Jesus: "So I get back to earth and there are these crosses all over the place and I'm like, W T F! If JFK came back to earth do you think he'd want to see a bunch of assassins with rifles everywhere????"

    July 9, 2013 at 11:52 am |
    • Thinker...

      I have always wondered why the implement of an extremly cruel and painful execution is used to represent the churches. I would think a simple statue of Jesus would have been a more appropriate symbol to put on churches.

      July 9, 2013 at 3:49 pm |
  8. Agnostickids

    If Adam and Eve didn't know good from evil before eating the fruit, then how did they know that eating the fruit would be bad?

    July 9, 2013 at 11:49 am |
    • Logan


      The bible never stated that Adam and Eve knew that eating the fruit of knowledge of good and evil was considered bad. They stated that they were told not to or they would surely die.

      If you consider doing a small amount of research before posting a comment, you might sound a little more intelligent on the subject, despite not having a clue.

      July 10, 2013 at 7:12 pm |
  9. Agnostickids

    For god so loved the world that he drowned everyone on it.

    July 9, 2013 at 11:48 am |
  10. Agnostickids

    I dream of a better world where chickens can cross the road without having their motives questioned.

    July 9, 2013 at 11:47 am |
    • lol??

      Lady Gaga came in an egg and called it thinkin'. Pwogwessives are always changing the meaning of words.

      July 11, 2013 at 10:38 pm |
    • lol??

      The Big O came a dreamin' 'bout fathers to compliment his socie mama. The gubmint is just a make-do.

      July 11, 2013 at 10:42 pm |
  11. Agnostickids

    If Scientists are "playing god" then wouldn't they be doing NOTHING?

    July 9, 2013 at 11:47 am |
  12. Agnostickids

    If God said, "thou shalt have no other gods before me" isn't he admitting that there are other gods?

    July 9, 2013 at 11:46 am |
    • Bill Deacon

      No, he's speaking to our propensity to make idols out things that are lower than the divine

      July 9, 2013 at 11:48 am |
    • Agnostickids

      Shut up Bill. You're nothing but a troll and a Provoker that haunts these boards.

      July 9, 2013 at 11:50 am |
    • Hear This

      Bill Deacon,

      No, Bill, there were lots of other gods being worshipped at the time. If 'he' meant something else, such as what you said, a real smart god could have/would have said it.

      July 9, 2013 at 11:55 am |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      I'm not really a fan of Bill... but aren't you doing the same thing?

      July 9, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
    • Agnostickids

      @ lucifer...no more than you are my friend. Don't be a hypocrite.

      July 10, 2013 at 8:32 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.