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. Amanduhhh

    Yeah, I don't know much about weird religions/cults/Christianity and stuff (or Westboro) but you religious guys come off as pretty mean and vindictive, like you know everything and stuff....I thought Jesus was totally against that.....he was nice and forgiving.....how can you look at history and stuff and see all the wars and persecution caused by religious zealots and not understand that religious fundamentalism (sorry I used a big word) just causes more problems than it fixes? OMG, just broke a nail sticking up for my beliefs, thanks!

    July 4, 2013 at 9:05 pm |
    • Austin

      ya so then complete your point and cite the new testament verses that caused those problems that you are talking about. make a strong correlation with the new testament, and lest say Hitler or the Crusaders. Go on now. Reply within ten minutes with the Christian "fundemental" doctrine.

      July 4, 2013 at 9:09 pm |
    • Austin

      Jesus Christ has all authority, now what kingdom then should we create for Him by warring? His kingdom is spiritual.

      He is the first fruit of the spirit, and just as soon as He is present, every knee will bow, so what human can strive in the place of God?

      July 4, 2013 at 9:12 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      Yes Austin. He'll be along any minute now.

      July 4, 2013 at 9:16 pm |
    • John987

      Amanduhhh – your comments are not only ignorant but also fuel the fire. Not everyone who is religious agree with Westboro. Abusive comments should not be allowed here.

      July 4, 2013 at 9:17 pm |
    • dbla

      I am staunchly anti-religious. It will be a great day when the majority of Americans see religion as a crutch for the uneducated, crazy or weak. Thanks to people like you, Fred Phelps and Muslim extremists, more and more people are seeing religion my way. I am actually convinced that Fred Phelps is doing it on purpose and is the greatest anti-religion figure of our time. The Westborough Baptist Church is his secret plot to drive America away from religion. Kudos Fred; masterfully played!

      July 4, 2013 at 9:22 pm |
    • Austin

      i would have to agree that they they should loose their status, if thats what the rules state, but everyone has political views. does a church not have the right to disapprove collectively, and have free speech ?

      July 4, 2013 at 9:33 pm |
    • Akira

      Sure they do, Austin, just as we have the right to say they are hateful bigots who use God as their excuse to say such outrageous things as our soldiers deserve to die because God hates gay people.

      July 4, 2013 at 9:43 pm |
    • lionlylamb

      Amanduhhh, wrote, "how can you look at history and stuff and see all the wars and persecution caused by religious zealots and not understand that religious fundamentalism (sorry I used a big word) just causes more problems than it fixes? OMG, just broke a nail sticking up for my beliefs, thanks!"

      What you seem to not understand about historical wars is that governing bodies were once backed by the hierarchies of the religious clerics who in turn gave to the warring governing bodies their religious flocks to wage war. Even today governing bodies cannot wage wars without the masses approvals. The U.S.A. presidencies could never have waged war with Iraq or Afghanistan without their knowing that its masses would not wholly interfere and/or escalate into becoming civilly disobedient except for those few who carry little to no weightiness in the political circles.

      July 4, 2013 at 10:23 pm |
    • lionlylamb


      What you and "everyone" who has or still does read Christendom's scriptures fails to fathom is that our kingdom is not and will never be a kingdom of God for: the "true kingdoms" of all of God's sons are upon our bodies insides as Luke 17:21 expressly states. Today's religious masses are all lost within their clergies inept inabilities to fathom such a truth and willfully contemplate its relevancies. With the sons of God being an internal consecration, civilizations will endure and deny such a relevancy. It is the only way for this world's people to remain here upon the celestial voids of atomized endurances.

      July 4, 2013 at 10:52 pm |
    • Austin

      lionly, i agree with you . striving does not impress the Holy Spirit. and you are right about the earthly kingdom misconception.

      although we are awaiting the 1ooo year reign first. That is a literal earthly kingdom.

      July 4, 2013 at 11:14 pm |
  2. Austin

    before the Anti Christ is definate, there will be a satanic power that organizes a global secular religious system/ false religion. this is a series of supernaturally evil alliances around the world that take place while he rises. wars and rumors of wars, ect.

    where was westboro when Bush was letting his masonically incripted speeches rip.?

    July 4, 2013 at 9:05 pm |
    • John987

      According to IRS rules for 501c3 (Tax Exempt Status) organizations, they are restricted from any political endorsement for or against any particular candidate. Therefore, Westboro Baptist Church should lose their tax exempt status because of this.

      July 4, 2013 at 9:21 pm |
    • Austin

      the church does not need the status to t.ithe. People would t.ithe anyway.

      July 4, 2013 at 9:25 pm |
  3. rude

    We are truly a FREE country when we allow these psychos to preach their hate.

    July 4, 2013 at 8:57 pm |
    • lol??

      There's not enuff money in the wurld to pay off americult's debt. So no, freedom is kaput.

      July 4, 2013 at 9:48 pm |
  4. Hex Angel

    Can we please jut take away their funding. There is NO need for people like this in the world.

    July 4, 2013 at 8:56 pm |
  5. DeaconBlue

    .......and here we go with the cult sermons

    July 4, 2013 at 8:53 pm |
    • Austin

      ohn 15:26-27
      New International Version (NIV)
      The Work of the Holy Spirit

      26 “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me. 27 And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.

      July 4, 2013 at 8:56 pm |
    • lionlylamb

      Is it civil and religiously righteous to condemn others for god's sake where god, life's father is old and senile when it comes to sensual pleasantry?

      July 4, 2013 at 9:11 pm |
    • Austin

      Is it civil and religiously righteous to condemn others for god's sake where god, life's father is old and senile when it comes to sensual pleasantry?

      who are you talking about? for example.........?
      condem others for gods sake? good question.
      old and senile? god? what is your lengthy opinion then about "biblical s.ex"?

      July 4, 2013 at 9:18 pm |
    • lionlylamb

      Austin asked me, "what is your lengthy opinion then about "biblical s.ex"?"

      My "lengthy opinion" regarding civilization's seual transgressions will not change civilizations' agendas regarding sensual promiscuities. My no longer practicing of sexuality in any form gives me an insight regarding my past life transgressions. My being taken advantage of by other elderly men when I was young was due my running away from home in my early teen years. It is with sadness that other teens who run away from home are possibly taken in by same sex folks who entice the runaway with sexual transgressions. Do I hate folks of elder ages who willfully engage the runaways? Yes for such actions being committed are pedophilia.

      July 4, 2013 at 9:38 pm |
    • Austin

      I certainly agree with you. I will re read the original question now.

      July 4, 2013 at 9:46 pm |
    • Austin

      No it isnt civil and religiously righteuss.

      I think it is wicked. We are flawed and flopping in societies excrement. its a sorry sight. and I am not a role model for the abstinence of sensual lust. I think the commandments where God said dont' make a graven image isn't read right in the church.

      July 4, 2013 at 9:52 pm |
    • lionlylamb

      Austin responded to me writing, "I think the commandments where God said dont' make a graven image isn't read right in the church."

      Could you Austin then explain to your readers just what you mean by "graven image"?

      July 4, 2013 at 10:06 pm |
    • Austin

      they would worship images, we often think of this as a bowing down , but it actually should be considered anything that is excessive devotion. this is worhip.

      woship and "image an anything in heaven above or on the earth below" not this is the part I am questioning, the extent that God expects us to obey that. "Do not make for yourself an image" and worship this. do not devote yourself to a recreated image...........

      July 4, 2013 at 10:15 pm |
    • Austin

      We are spiritual beings, and worhipping the image is basically also a mental reprieve, for being in God's light, not the light that the TV gives you. This is a very deep and challenging ordeal while in the flesh in this society.

      July 4, 2013 at 10:18 pm |
    • CarrotCakeMan

      This all reads like a prepared script, boys...

      July 4, 2013 at 10:20 pm |
    • lionlylamb


      Our souls being of spiritual essences are a part of one's body in that our spirituality is dependent upon our conscious awareness when one contemplates all mannerisms of social welfares.

      July 4, 2013 at 11:16 pm |
  6. Austin

    40“At the time of the end the king of the South will engage him in battle, and the king of the North will storm out against him with chariots and cavalry and a great fleet of ships. He will invade many countries and sweep through them like a flood. 41He will also invade the Beautiful Land. Many countries will fall, but Edom, Moab and the leaders of Ammon will be delivered from his hand. 42He will extend his power over many countries; Egypt will not escape. 43He will gain control of the treasures of gold and silver and all the riches of Egypt, with the Libyans and Cush.itese in submission. 44But reports from the east and the north will alarm him, and he will set out in a great rage to destroy and annihilate many. 45He will pitch his royal tents between the seas atf the beautiful holy mountain. Yet he will come to his end, and no one will help him.

    July 4, 2013 at 8:50 pm |
    • Austin

      Isaiah 53 700 BC Messianic Prophesy

      5But he was pierced for our transgressions,
      he was crushed for our iniquities;
      the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
      and by his wounds we are healed.
      6We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
      each of us has turned to our own way;
      and the Lord has laid on him
      the iniquity of us all.

      July 4, 2013 at 8:58 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      Then there's the puzzling part:

      "and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin,
      he will see his offspring and prolong his days"

      July 4, 2013 at 9:04 pm |
    • Austin

      He is the first fruit of the spirit. His power over death and supernatural Holy Spirit are adopting sons through the gift of faith.

      July 4, 2013 at 9:06 pm |
    • dbla

      I am staunchly anti-religious. It will be a great day when the majority of Americans see religion as a crutch for the uneducated, crazy or weak. Thanks to people like you, Fred Phelps and Muslim extremists, more and more people are seeing religion my way. I am actually convinced that Fred Phelps is doing it on purpose and is the greatest anti-religion figure of our time. The Westborough Baptist Church is his secret plot to drive America away from religion. Kudos Fred; masterfully played!

      July 4, 2013 at 9:10 pm |
    • Austin

      well i doubt it is on purpose knowing how cooky and wind driven this selfish desire is. but he could be right. so since you don't even believe in the Anti Christ, you are even more wrong. Hes paranoid . but he might not be spiritually dead , he just has a problem with worry. You on the other hand, have another problem, it sounds like you have given the devil full control of your mind. you reject God and this is not necessarily permanent.

      The Holy Spirit is a sanctifying spirit that bears the truth of God's word. You would know it if it happened.

      July 4, 2013 at 9:23 pm |
  7. kr

    WBC members do not deserve to breathe free air. They truly are the MOST disgusting group of people around. They make rev. barber look good. Sooner or later karma WILL get them.

    July 4, 2013 at 8:47 pm |
  8. Mark Michigan

    "The Obama administration will not label Westboro Baptist Church a hate group, "

    Because they work for Obama. They are agents. They are terrorist. They are anti-Anonymous. They are Puppets for Obama.

    July 4, 2013 at 8:41 pm |
    • Akira

      Your tinfoil cap needs to be tightened. This is the most absurd comment I've read yet today, and I've read some doozies.

      July 4, 2013 at 8:45 pm |
    • lol??

      Let em eat Elmo!

      July 4, 2013 at 8:51 pm |
    • Observer

      Mark Michigan,

      Possibly the most factless and ignorant comment of the day.

      Well done.

      July 4, 2013 at 8:52 pm |
    • Akira

      You advocate eating a three and a half year old toddler character on Sesame Street? What's the matter? Don't like someone that has better speaking skills than you do, lol??

      July 4, 2013 at 9:08 pm |
  9. Amanduhhh

    I'm a Fig Hig

    July 4, 2013 at 8:37 pm |
  10. DeaconBlue

    FIGS? I love Figs, they do taste good.....

    July 4, 2013 at 8:26 pm |
  11. Blessed are the Cheesemakers

    It's FIGS....God hates FIGS!

    Jeremiah 29:17

    Mark 11:12-14

    July 4, 2013 at 8:14 pm |
    • Akira

      BatC, where have you been?

      July 4, 2013 at 8:32 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      Summer.....been busy.....

      you dissapeared for awhile to Akira....great see you!

      July 4, 2013 at 8:39 pm |
    • Chad

      I like Akira too!

      July 4, 2013 at 8:45 pm |
    • Akira

      Ah yes...summer.

      And where have YOU been, Chad? The song of summer singing to you, also?

      July 4, 2013 at 9:17 pm |
  12. Mack

    If they manage to incite a riot then there can be criminal charges against them. And what about all that yelling with bullhorns. If I did that in my community I would be in the back of a squad car in 5 minutes. It is called disturbing the peace. I say treat this organization like law enforcement did OJ Simpson. Dog them until they make a mistake and then throw the book at them. Now here is a target I would recommend to the IRS

    July 4, 2013 at 8:13 pm |
  13. Jaimie

    They are just plain weird.

    July 4, 2013 at 8:01 pm |
  14. sickandtired

    I was be one of the first to purchase a ticket to fly wherever necessary to watch the decomposed corps of Fred Phelps being dropped into the cold earth where he belongs and protest as loudly as one can in hopes of preventing his family from grieving so they can feel what it's like.

    July 4, 2013 at 7:51 pm |
    • He's Dead Already...

      He died last year. But it took his own family 6 months to realize he was dead in his own home. So much for 'honor they mother and father' verse. His granddaughters were kinda cute though...

      July 4, 2013 at 8:11 pm |
    • Bina

      Sorry, but I don't think he's dead yet. I am pretty sure that is just a rumor that someone online started.

      July 4, 2013 at 8:48 pm |
  15. Loathstheright

    Just more proof that only fools believe in any religion, god never existed and never will. These are just sick people with extremely sick minds.

    July 4, 2013 at 7:47 pm |
  16. Why not RICO?

    I don't understand how WBC's planned activities to cross state lines in order to provoke victims of disasters who may receive some payment for their pain and suffering so that the WBC members may sue for a slice of the real victim's payment cannot fall under the RICO statute in some way. How can deliberately colluding for monetary gain in such a way not be organized crime?

    July 4, 2013 at 7:31 pm |
    • Good question.

      I had not heard of RICO so I checked it out a little. Yes, they are crossing state lines, but they don't seem to be breaking any laws or illegally gaining any funding. (Maybe I don't totally understand the laws...) They aren't mob. They are just a F***ed up cult using monies gained from legitimate lawsuits to proceed with their jacked up views. And after learning more about them, I am leaning more toward letting them just die out. It's a very small group of people who have managed to pi$$ off the entire county. Members of this cult have left and more will continue to do so after Freddie P. gets old and croaks. We can only hope.

      July 4, 2013 at 7:46 pm |
    • Akira

      I'm calling Poe on Bri boy, here.

      July 4, 2013 at 7:46 pm |
    • midwest rail

      Indeed, Akira – " I'm sorry, captain, there can be no reply to this probe. "

      July 4, 2013 at 7:53 pm |
  17. Robert

    The fact that they reference Anonymous on a sign is total win for Anonymous. WBC, you been trolled, trolled hard.

    July 4, 2013 at 7:21 pm |
    • AE

      Last year Anonymous took over their website and some of their Twitter accounts.

      It was hilarious.

      July 4, 2013 at 7:28 pm |
  18. CCCverger

    when you/we/I vilify the 'other' and thus create focus for hate, animus and virulent action....that is NOT how ANY of the central religious figures (Jesus, Mohammad, Buddha) would have us do......acting within the boundaries of kindness and love, despite the provocations of the 'other' is what we are called to do as both action and example. You cannot cure this ignorance and hate with anything but determined positive action....can you hear us SPLC and Morris Dees?

    July 4, 2013 at 7:16 pm |
  19. Maggie Raines

    As hard as it might be, laughing in their faces might be the best way to combat them. I don't advocate violence against them, though it sure is tempting. Removing their 501(3)(c) is a wonderful idea.

    July 4, 2013 at 7:09 pm |
    • Bostontola

      I agree, responding to speech (even hate speech) with violence is never acceptable and makes you worse than them.

      July 4, 2013 at 7:13 pm |
    • Brother Brosn

      It's going to be hard to laugh at them??? Don't think so!

      July 4, 2013 at 8:30 pm |
  20. Shodori

    *Chuckles at a thought* Maybe if we did a Drone strike on WBC the US would praise the use of them on american citizens

    July 4, 2013 at 6:42 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.