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
[twitter-follow screen_name='EricCNNBelief']

(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. Michael

    WBC members need a good kick in the groin.

    July 3, 2013 at 11:34 pm |
    • Michael

      Over and over again.

      July 3, 2013 at 11:35 pm |
  2. bobby jones

    you stupid christians posting that they dont represent the bible may want to read it, they are exactly representing what your beloved bible said, what you "god" wrote, and you support that. religion is fake, everyone that believes in the invisible man that reads your thoughts should be shunned as an idiot or mentally disturbed.

    July 3, 2013 at 11:30 pm |
    • animapersa

      Do you feel better after that rant? The WBC are a hateful group, but I also have enough life experience to know that not all Christians (or anyone of any other belief for that matter) are as extreme as you described them... how your intolerance shines through, sir! Live and let live, cliché as it is, true nonetheless.

      Signed – An Atheist

      July 4, 2013 at 6:48 am |
  3. MJ

    It would seem that this group is a bunch of latent gays.

    July 3, 2013 at 11:29 pm |
    • Observer


      Grow up. Don't insult gays like that.

      July 3, 2013 at 11:33 pm |
    • Aethyr Wolf

      Latent Gays indeed.

      January 8, 2014 at 1:59 am |
  4. maxim ryazansky

    I have been photographing the WBC for almost 10 years now. Please check out my website if you have a minute: http://www.MaximRyazansky.com

    July 3, 2013 at 11:18 pm |
  5. James

    What is it with you yanks? This whole scheme was thought up by a bunch of self serving jerks. Since when is it the job of the White House to decide who is a hate group? The WBC has long since been tagged a hate group by recognized agencies who monitor such things. All that time and money wasted and for what? All they accomplished was getting more attention for the WBC. Hope they're proud of themselves.

    July 3, 2013 at 11:17 pm |
    • The question is why ISN'T it the job of the White House to confront Hate?

      It's EVERYONE's job to confront Hate groups. For the White House to stick its head in the sand is just them afraid that they'll look bad to delusional Christians.

      If you people would just keep your god damned religious delusions to yourselves, the entire world would be better.

      Shove your Holy Jeebus up your butt & rotate.

      July 3, 2013 at 11:35 pm |
  6. rconatser1

    Religion is the root of all evil.

    July 3, 2013 at 11:16 pm |
    • Shijin83

      No, sir. Man is the root of all evil.

      July 4, 2013 at 10:00 am |
  7. Wendy

    When groups of people try and make their point with animosity like this group did, it always inspires me to do the exact opposite of what they want.

    July 3, 2013 at 11:13 pm |
  8. Saraswati

    Does anyone know why the media focuses so much attention on this little goup? I just seems like there are so many more tiny annoying groups of people who think nasty things. If they didn't do this obnoxious and rude protesting at funerals stunt would anyone much care? Really, I'm just wondering because I one of the folks these guys think is going to burn eternally in hell and I just don't find them very interesting.

    July 3, 2013 at 11:09 pm |
    • Austin

      KJV: Daniel 11:41 He shall enter also into the glorious land, and many countries shall be overthrown: but these shall escape out of his hand, even Edom, and Moab, and the chief of the children of Ammon.
      42 He shall stretch forth his hand also upon the countries: and the land of Egypt shall not escape.
      43 But he shall have power over the treasures of gold and of silver, and over all the precious things of Egypt: and the Libyans and the Ethiopians shall be at his steps.
      44 But tidings out of the east and out of the north shall trouble him: therefore he shall go forth with great fury to destroy, and utterly to make away many.
      45 And he shall plant the tabernacles of his palace between the seas in the glorious holy mountain; yet he shall come to his end, and none shall help him.

      July 3, 2013 at 11:16 pm |
    • MarlboroMan

      So, uh, tell me Austin: can you fully explain the theological, ontological, and geopolitical underpinnings of the Bible passage you quoted? Do you remotely comprehend the entire context and spiritual significance of the passage you copied and pasted? Or, as so many religious zealots do, did you merely paste a few words with no discerning of their irrelevance to the topic at hand?

      July 3, 2013 at 11:24 pm |
    • Saraswati


      I just skip uncontextualized bible quotes. If someone is too laz y to tell me why I should read the quotes, they don't warrant my time.

      July 4, 2013 at 8:29 am |
    • Shijin83

      The media gives people like this attention because people like this pull in clicks. You clicked on the link and this site made money off it. I clicked on the link as well as thousands, if not millions of others. Which makes the media think "Hey, WBC seems to get us a lot of attention. Let's give the people what they want."

      July 4, 2013 at 10:04 am |
  9. Jimh77

    Send the Westy's to Afghanistan. A one way ticket. They do not belong in America.

    July 3, 2013 at 11:06 pm |
  10. IvotedforObama

    All Obama has to do is go against them and all of a sudden everybody will support them.

    July 3, 2013 at 11:04 pm |
    • jesus christ

      Yeah!!! Everyone in this country wants radical Christians to pic on the families of dead soldiers. That's what morality is all about!!!!

      (Republicans please note: This post is sarcasm.)

      July 3, 2013 at 11:15 pm |
  11. Fuzzy Thinker

    I like what some Christian groups are doing. They send people to where the Westys plan to mock others. They form a person arm-in-arm barrier between the Westys and their target. And they sing hymns at the Westys.

    July 3, 2013 at 10:49 pm |
    • Keith

      The Wesboro Baptist Church is nothing but a few loons who do not deserve the media attention they are getting.

      July 3, 2013 at 11:02 pm |
  12. What is going on? FREEDOM

    Hahahahaha. Westboro Church are just a bunch of clueless fools.

    July 3, 2013 at 10:39 pm |
  13. dan

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

    HAHAHAHAHAHA. anyone else find this super funny.

    July 3, 2013 at 10:38 pm |
    • sim namore

      I did. I guess the White House doesn't speak to the FBI, the CIA or the NSA. So. How stupid does 'the White House' think we are? Stupid enough to believe that a white house thinks or says anything whatsoever. It's a damn house.

      July 3, 2013 at 10:47 pm |
    • rhondajo3

      Yes, it is funny since Obama supposedly has a drone "hit" list.

      July 3, 2013 at 10:55 pm |
  14. Tom, Tom, the Other One

    Mr Phelps makes an important contribution to our understanding of the Christian God (some of us have been trying to understand):

    -God may love you

    -God may hate you

    That's about it, and,either way, God is obsessive and a bit creepy.

    July 3, 2013 at 9:05 pm |
    • Paul

      "Mr Phelps makes an important contribution to our understanding of the Christian God"
      –Tom Tom

      No, he doesn't, but he does give you a good understanding of himself. If you want to learn about the Christian God, learn directly from the Christian God. If you want to learn about Mr. Phelps, learn directly from Mr. Phelps.

      July 3, 2013 at 11:07 pm |
  15. Miss Chocolate Mom

    Where is the love? Where is the happiness? Where is the smile? Where is the best?

    This hurts.

    July 3, 2013 at 8:55 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      Where is the confrontation, the exposure, the resolution and end of the evil people like Westboro do. This is disappointing.

      July 3, 2013 at 9:13 pm |
    • Roth

      The ones holding the scriptures, had Jesus put to death. They didn't listen to Jesus, and he didn't tell them to stop killing him. He didn't ask the angels to stop them either. They were free to be the worst they could be.

      It is that difficult to be good, when you forget to be good.

      July 3, 2013 at 9:29 pm |
  16. Nicodemus Grumpschmidt

    I keep looking at my watch and wondering at exactly what hour Phelps will step boldly out of the closet. At that moment, then, the entire gay population of this country will figuratively slam him up against the wall and show no mercy. C'est la vie, Fred.

    July 3, 2013 at 7:57 pm |
  17. Russ

    "I may disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

    July 3, 2013 at 7:40 pm |
    • Burning Korans Everyday

      "I may have a vapid and empty quote, but I can always be counted upon to waste your time with it!"

      July 3, 2013 at 8:51 pm |
  18. Age of Reason

    ..."Jesus Christ and the twelve apostles were just a parody of the sun-worship and the twelve signs of the zodiac"
    The Religious Compilations of Thomas Paine

    .....this "JESUS CHRIST" was a mythical, political construct who NEVER existed and DO NOT believe in him!

    July 3, 2013 at 7:24 pm |
    • Lycidas

      It's nice to see that Paine was a crackpot pseudo-historian.

      And if you do not believe that a historical Jesus existed, well...you keep whatever faith you wish.

      July 3, 2013 at 8:09 pm |
    • jazzguitarman

      Lycidas: Well a man called Jesus might have existed but what he did or didn't do is hard to pin down. Most of the so called historical accounts were written way after his estimated death date. Stories passed down from generation to generation as often embellished.

      July 3, 2013 at 9:09 pm |
    • are122

      You were there? LOL. Okay.

      July 3, 2013 at 10:40 pm |
    • Noah Shyte

      Curious that you chose to reference Thomas Paine. After all, his work "The Age of Reason" promotes as its main thesis, deism, that understanding of the natural world is sufficient evidence of God; as I'm certain you're also further aware, classical deists also reject atheism, so your add-on commentary is confusing.

      July 4, 2013 at 4:26 pm |
    • G to the T

      Noah – that's because he was a deist, but not a christian. Not the same as atheist.

      July 8, 2013 at 11:45 am |
  19. Lycidas

    Labeling groups as Hate Groups is beneath the Administration. Don't give these people anymore press than they already get.

    July 3, 2013 at 6:54 pm |
  20. A Conversation

    A reasonable position by the Administration. The government should not be in the business of subjectively labeling groups (insert all slippery slope arguments here). That said, private groups and individuals do have the right to subjectively label groups as they see fit. Accordingly: Westboro is a hate group.

    July 3, 2013 at 6:23 pm |
    • AE

      I used to live close to them in Topeka. They are a group of hate-mongers.

      They need Jesus!

      July 3, 2013 at 6:27 pm |
    • Athy

      No, they've got to get rid of jesus. That's their problem.

      July 3, 2013 at 7:12 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Jesus isn't their problem.
      I wish every Christian drew their faith from the Jefferson BIble. I find it awfully hard to criticize the Sermon on the Mount...
      The Westboro people's problem is the rest of the Bible that can and has been cherry picked to condemn just about anyone or anything.

      July 3, 2013 at 7:28 pm |
    • A Conversation

      But Doc, if they're cherry picking (and they are), then they're taking their purported supportive scripture out of context. The problem isn't the "rest of the Bible," it's their inability or refusal (more likely) to accept the fact that they are required to love above all else.

      July 3, 2013 at 7:36 pm |
    • Russ

      @ Doc Vestibule:
      The Jeffersonian Bible IS cherry picking the Bible.

      July 3, 2013 at 7:39 pm |
    • Observer


      NO ONE believes every word of the Bible. They just pick and choose whatever they agree with and ignore the rest. That's why there are so many hypocrites that pick on gays or pretend that the Bible ever mentions abortion.

      July 3, 2013 at 7:43 pm |
    • A Conversation

      Observer...actually, many people do believe every word of the Bible. I count myself among that group. The issue, however, is better identified as to what I believe it says (interpretation). I don't ignore any of it though–there are definitely some hard things to work through. But, if you can think of a verse you believe that most people who believe in the Bible routinely ignore, I'd be happy to address it.

      July 3, 2013 at 8:17 pm |
    • AE

      from Galations (plus my experience of living near the Phelps crew):

      "God's spirit make us:

      – loving (I can't recall the Phelps acting in a loving manner in Topeka)

      – happy (they seem happy when their insults harm another)

      – peaceful (they are not violent. But they will sue you! they will fight you in the courts over money)

      – kind (Not at all)

      – faithful (yes)

      – gentle (Not at all)

      – self-controlled (no, they screamed a lot, even in the presence of children)

      There is no law against behaving any of these ways"

      "Bearing fruit is a gift, not a demand."

      July 3, 2013 at 8:33 pm |
    • AE

      From Galations (plus my experience with the Phelps crew)

      "People's desires make them give in to immoral ways, filthy thoughts and shameful deeds:

      They worship idols (maybe their signs?, they seem to have carved a mental idol out of their understanding of the OT God)

      Practice witchcraft (no)


      Are hard to get along with (BINGO!)

      People become jealous, angry and selfish (I have seen anger and extreme selfishness – picketing a funeral?)

      They not only argue and cause trouble (BINGO!)...

      They get drunk, carry on at wild parties, and do other evil things as well (No, or maybe. I don't know)


      This is why they need Jesus' help.

      July 3, 2013 at 8:41 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      The Jefferson Bible cherry picks the passages that represent what should be the core of Christianity – the words attributed to Christ Himself.
      Putting aside the absurdities of the OT, history has proven that one can rationalize just about any kind of nonsensical vitriol by picking and choosing passages from the softer sequel to the smitey God of the Jews.
      But it is the character of Jesus that Christians are supposed to emulate. That archetypal image of the martyred pacifist.
      Of all the characters in the many stories that comprise the Bible, Christ alone extols the necessity of compassion, humility, charity and forgiveness.
      Take away Leviticus, Corinthians and Romans and the Christian arguments against ho.mose.xuality disappear.
      Leave only the words of Christ and an argument for acceptance and inclusion of all people should ring through.

      July 3, 2013 at 9:26 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      Interesting, Doc Vestibule. Can the mission of someone who most likely wanted to reform the Judaism of his day be completed in the present day? Can the Christian derivative of Judaism be reformed as well? All by recovering what the man actually said?

      July 3, 2013 at 9:31 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      @Tom Tom
      So far all we've seen are attempts at turning the story of Abraham's God into a trilogy via the declarations of yet another prophet and nut jobs claiming to be Christ reincarnate.
      Whatever His true biography may be, the legendary rabble rousing rabbi of the people is long dead and despite the fervent wishes of His followers, He ain't coming back.
      The first step away from the endless strife that comes from arguing mythological minutiae is to admit that the whole thing is, in fact, mythology!
      But if my neighbour is going to base their behaviour on a god/demi-god, I'd rather it be Jesus than Hercules, Gilgamesh or Beowulf.

      July 3, 2013 at 9:50 pm |
    • Observer

      A Conversation

      "Observer...actually, many people do believe every word of the Bible. I count myself among that group."

      C'mon. Get serious. I really doubt that you support slavery, discrimination against women and the handicapped, and that marriage should be FORCED onto people even if they hate each other.

      July 3, 2013 at 10:45 pm |
    • Russ

      @ Doc:
      the core of Christianity? the primary content of Jesus' teaching is himself – not 'try hard to be good' (as taught by virtually every other religion on the planet) but "apart from me you can do nothing" (Jn.15:5). we need a Savior, not just a teacher or example. his ethical teachings don't make sense without that framework – especially considering how IMPOSSIBLE they are.

      As Madalyn Murray O'Hair put it (paraphrasing): the Golden Rule? how could anyone love other people with all the passion that they have for themselves – especially their enemies? think about how much of our thoughts are preoccupied daily with ourselves. it's impossible.

      aside from that: Jesus claims repeatedly to be divine, he is clearly heard as claiming such by the response of the people, he forgives sins qualitatively (something only God can do), he allows people to worship him without rebuking them, he repeatedly applies the personal name of God (YHWH) to himself, etc. Just a brief perusal of the Gospel accounts makes that much clear.

      your often-called 'ethical Jesus' – if derived from only Jesus' own words – fails its own test.

      July 3, 2013 at 11:19 pm |
    • Russ

      @ Observer:
      on the contrary, no one believes every word as *you have interpreted* the Bible. and that's basically the point. you are self-projecting.

      ironically, the rigidity that you ascribe to the millions of biblical conservatives in our country who claim precisely what you say none do... that same rigidity you yourself evidence in your refusal to hear what they are claiming.

      July 3, 2013 at 11:24 pm |
    • Observer


      So are you agreeing with me that no one believes every word of the Bible or are you ridiculously claiming that you do?

      July 3, 2013 at 11:37 pm |
    • A Conversation

      Observer...you're not giving me verses, but you are paraphrasing scripture out of context. Again...give me a specific verse. Naturally, I don't abide by slavery and discrimination and forced marriage–the Bible does not require me to do so.

      July 4, 2013 at 1:19 am |
    • Russ

      @ Observer:
      this might help you...

      July 4, 2013 at 8:49 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Correction: YOU apparently need a saviour, not everybody.
      You can fret about posthumous, supernatural reprisal all you like. I will keep living this life in the here and now.
      I'm just saying that if one is going to base the way they live on ancient stories, I'd rather my neighbours try to emulate the Christ's characteristics.
      Of course nobody can be that perfect – Jesus is a mythological archetype!
      A lot of myth is based in fact – but if a story has supernatrual elements at its core, it isn't literal truth.
      Gilgamesh was really the ruler of teh Kingdom of Uruk – but he was NOT a demi-god who ruled for over a century, nor did he take a stroll down the Underworld.

      July 4, 2013 at 11:38 am |
    • Russ

      @ Doc:
      1) the point was the primary content of Jesus' teaching. HE clearly stated: he is God, we need a Savior, etc. Apart from *my* opinion, that is a demonstrable fact in the text. Those teachings are inextricably woven into the text. EVEN the Jeffersonian Bible struggles to divorce the two because it's the meta-narrative of his life. Even the narrative (so-called 'non-miraculous portions' & dialogues) point to his central claim.

      2) Myth? Here's a great essay from a lifelong myth expert on why claiming the Gospel accounts are myth requires ignoring what a myth actually is...

      for example...
      a) the timeline
      the epic of Gilgamesh was written (at best) 800 years after the supposed events. Paul writes 1 Cor.15 within 15 years of Jesus' death. The eyewitnesses he names there are still alive. He's inviting fact-checking. Ancient myths arise 100s of years after the fact. These account arise within the lifetime of eyewitnesses.

      b) the genre itself
      "I have been reading poems, romances, vision-literature, legends, myths all my life. I know what they are like. I know that not one of them is like this. Of this text there are only two possible views. Either this is reportage – though it may no doubt contain errors – pretty close up to the facts; nearly as close as Boswell. Or else, some unknown writer in the second century, without known predecessors, or successors, suddenly anticipated the whole technique of modern, novelistic, realistic narrative. If it is untrue, it must be narrative of that kind. The reader who doesn't see this has simply not learned to read. I would recommend him to read Auerbach." (from the linked essay)

      3) "nobody can be that perfect." so what is wrong with us? and why wouldn't we need a Savior if we can't be perfect?

      July 5, 2013 at 12:14 pm |
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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.