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. lol??

    Yup, the ol' Viet Nam era troops coming home sure got called baby killers a bunch by the libby socie mobs. Now ya got 1/3 of child bearing age women, with child, doin' the killin'.

    Ain't gubmint gods wunnerful??

    July 5, 2013 at 6:53 am |
    • midwest rail

      The majority of those are Christian women. Do you have a point other than the one on your head ?

      July 5, 2013 at 7:21 am |
    • Austin

      the only thing better than government is television. push a button, receive a programming.

      July 5, 2013 at 7:42 am |
    • Austin

      lol is a cone head? L I B .

      July 5, 2013 at 7:43 am |
    • lol??

      The gubmint god by usurping the authority of joining Has Already confused the women into thinking marriage is just a longer version of prosti*tution. Or in educational circles an extended prom date.

      July 5, 2013 at 8:04 am |
    • midwest rail

      Contemporary Christians had no problem with government "being in the marriage business" until it became clear that they would no longer be able to discriminate against their fellow citizens.

      July 5, 2013 at 8:08 am |
    • lol??

      What better way to rule over men, the tyrants say, than to go after the weakest in the "one flesh", the woman. That tactic goes all the way back to the garden and is the ONE STAPLE of socies and commies. They're hungry.

      July 5, 2013 at 8:25 am |
    • midwest rail

      Whine all you wish. Equal rights are here to stay, no matter how many ways you attempt to justify your bigotry.

      July 5, 2013 at 8:39 am |
    • lol??

      Pig out all ya want, rail. You don't have to worry about me stoppin' ya. Good is evil and evil is good. It's a mixed up cwazy wurld for Lola.

      July 5, 2013 at 8:50 am |
    • midwest rail

      " You don't have to worry about me stoppin' ya. "
      You wouldn't be stopping me from anything. Your delusion is that anyone who supports equal rights is gay themselves. Nonsense. But that's standard operating procedure in lol?? world.

      July 5, 2013 at 9:16 am |
    • Akira

      Lol??'s motto: "Save the fetus. Starve the child."

      July 5, 2013 at 11:42 am |
  2. lol??

    The lost are so fickle. Now they are retreating to the ol' standby of wrapping themselves in the socie flag. Remember the false brethren that sold ya the concept of THE PLEDGE??

    Yeah, mobs are so thoughtful. You didn't study the history of the Viet Nam War protesters that spit on the troops coming home?? Oh, I see, those were righteous mobs. BBBbbwwwaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahahahahaha

    July 5, 2013 at 6:18 am |
    • P

      You seem to be mentally ill...

      July 5, 2013 at 9:36 am |
    • lol??

      Feeling that way, P, must be a payoff in itself for a card carryin' member of the libby mob.

      July 5, 2013 at 10:32 am |
  3. t3chn0ph0b3

    Interesting tweet by Fred Phelps. Next time someone tells me that Fred Phelps is a "liberal," I'll direct them right there.

    July 5, 2013 at 12:14 am |
    • Len

      Who would be stupid enough to see him as a liberal when he clearly goes further to the Right than most other Conservative churches?

      July 5, 2013 at 1:09 am |
    • Saraswati

      While I've never heard him descrribed as a liberal I believe that some of his early legal work might have been considered so.

      July 5, 2013 at 11:46 am |
    • Len

      He was ordained by a Southern Baptist church and considers himself one of the elect few preordained by God. Hardly a "liberal" view.

      July 5, 2013 at 12:58 pm |
  4. Van Krunk

    Dude, 50 members...give the guys some credit (then beat the %$@%# out of them).

    July 5, 2013 at 12:08 am |
    • Van Krunk

      So, what do the videos (anti Arizona rhetoric) have to do with WBC? Just saying!

      July 5, 2013 at 12:13 am |
    • Truth Prevails :-)

      WBC is protesting the firefighters funerals...that is what they have to do with Arizona.

      July 5, 2013 at 8:19 am |
    • Joe from CT, not Lieberman

      50 members and just about every one related to him by blood or marriage.

      July 5, 2013 at 8:56 am |
    • Len

      Let's not forget that Christianity itself only started off with about 50 members. Same goes for Islam, Mormonism, Scientology, and probably every other major world religion. There could be 5 Billion Phelpians out there hating in 2100.

      July 5, 2013 at 12:42 pm |
    • I wonder


      Yes, and it is evident that we have a few potential members posting here.

      July 5, 2013 at 12:46 pm |
  5. Cambridge Ray


    July 4, 2013 at 11:13 pm |
    • Daroth

      One thing you have to understand is the fact that in our country you are free to spout hate and ignorance and let public opinion judge you without intervention and censorship by the government , That is what truly makes America great, It is a right many have died for.
      I am glad this organization can do and say what they want,that way they can be seen for what they are. Shirley can go home at the end of the day and dream about how Obama will eventually manifest into pure evil and the rest of us can move on.

      July 5, 2013 at 12:26 am |
  6. Cambridge Ray


    July 4, 2013 at 10:54 pm |
    • NL

      I've been to Cambridge Bay, up in the Canadian arctic. You wouldn't be from there, would you?

      July 5, 2013 at 1:13 am |
  7. jimmy swaggart

    The ministry needs your help. Make a donation today.

    July 4, 2013 at 10:53 pm |
  8. Cambridge Ray

    I am a newcomer to America, but the one thing I learned years ago, is about those who call themselves "Conservatives".

    Conservatism (the Extreme Kind) is based on 5 principles:

    (1) Hate and Fear
    (2) Hate and Fear
    (3) Hate and Fear
    (4) Hate and Fear
    (5) Hate and Fear

    Then there is a distant 6th. and 7th.

    (6) The implicit belief that Time Travel will address their needs
    (7) Lack of Compassion

    July 4, 2013 at 10:52 pm |
    • Just the Facts Ma'am...

      You sir are a liar, you are no newcomer to America...

      July 5, 2013 at 1:04 am |
    • MikeF

      I would have said "Magic", or "Conquest by a super alien" for no. 6, but I otherwise agree. Are you exceptionally astute, or are they that easy to read?

      July 5, 2013 at 1:17 am |
  9. Cambridge Ray

    There are THREE kinds of Republicans:

    • One group is busy spreading hatred

    • Another group is busy denying that the first group exists

    • The 3rd. group is Colin Powell

    Don't believe me? Check by yourself: Just scroll up & down. Go to ANY Internet forum.

    July 4, 2013 at 10:49 pm |
  10. Jason

    The Westboro Baptist Church is a little group of fanatical crazies that seem to believe they are doing God's work. Where in the bible does it say to attack mourning families with your lies and rhetoric? Where in the bible does it say for you to pass judgment on others? Where in the bible does it say to hurt people and spew your venom at anyone or anything that you disagree with? Reading a book doesn't make you closer to God. Having some deranged fool filling your head with hate and delusional thoughts of what God wants doesn't make you righteous. It makes you sad lost souls that are too blinded to see life for what it is. Life is beautiful but they will never realize this because they are too busy hate mongering and spitting venom at everyone and everything they come across. It is sad and pathetic all at the same time.

    July 4, 2013 at 10:48 pm |
    • Benny

      The fact that there are little groups of fanatical crazies like this doesn't change the fact that there are also large groups of fanatical crazies doing pretty much the same thing, albeit on a slightly lower scale. That's the face of Conservatism here in America.

      July 5, 2013 at 1:22 am |
  11. rasko41

    Gee I wish somebody would put up a picture of me with horns. No fair.

    July 4, 2013 at 10:46 pm |
    • Lisa

      Get elected as a Democrat to any high office and you'll probably get one automatically. It really doesn't matter what you say, or what your platform is.

      July 5, 2013 at 1:25 am |
  12. Travis

    I agree with the White House's position on this one...ignore them completely. The simple fact is that these people thrive on controversy. Without it, they would be just another tiny church in Kansas that no one outside of Topeka would have ever heard of. Truthfully, I don't even think that the majority of them actually believe what they preach. I've seen photos of WBC members allowing their children to be photographed with the very people who show up to counter their protests. This isn't the behavior of true believers. They are a group of extremely histrionic people who desperately need to be in the spotlight, even if it means that they are reviled or despised by the rest of America. Putting them on some kind of hate group list will only serve to raise their profile, which is exactly what they want. The WANT you to boo them. They WANT to attract counter-demonstrators. And they WANT the recognition of the highest authority in the country. They know exactly what we all think of them, and they love it. As hard as it may be to accept, the only way that these people are going to go away is if we give them no reason to show up in the first place. No cameras, no counter-demonstrations, no interviews with church leaders, nothing to acknowledge their existence in any way. Eventually, they will slide into obscurity. They are only a problem if we choose to allow them to be a problem.

    July 4, 2013 at 10:42 pm |
    • USMC1371

      They WANT someone to act against them so they can sue them thats how they make their money.

      July 5, 2013 at 3:30 am |
  13. John

    For once I can see a use for the second amendment with extreme prejudice.

    July 4, 2013 at 10:41 pm |
  14. VEW2012

    The real Antichrist is the Westboro Baptist Church.

    July 4, 2013 at 10:18 pm |

    • It looks like we have a winner. Let's tell VEW2012 what she's won.

      July 4, 2013 at 10:21 pm |
    • DMG2FUN

      Ever read the 1st amend?

      July 4, 2013 at 10:25 pm |
    • Mrs. Pepperpot

      Yes, which is why VEW2012 can say what he did, and which is why he gets a prize as best comment.

      July 4, 2013 at 10:32 pm |
    • jazzguitarman

      I see that you reply to each post with a comment about the 1st amendment when the person posting doesn’t say anything about suppressing the right of this cult to speak. The court ruling that requires this cult to remain a certain distance from funerals is consistent with case law. E.g. one cannot come to my house at 3:00 am and speak loudly. It wouldn’t matter what this person is saying, case law has determine that is disturbing the peace. So it appears you need to learn more about the 1st amendment and its application.

      July 4, 2013 at 11:10 pm |
  15. Tom, Tom, the Other One

    It seems like it would be expensive for a tiny 50-member church to picket as many as 50,000 events, even over several years. Where does the money come from?

    July 4, 2013 at 10:12 pm |
    • George

      Phelps (The person in charge if you can call him one) is a disbarred lawyer so he might use creative ways to raise funds

      July 4, 2013 at 10:22 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      Shirley is a lawyer as well, they get paid when they sue and get sued. They are very shrewd in knowing where the legal line is and being on the correct side of it.

      July 4, 2013 at 10:35 pm |
    • Saraswati

      I think a bunch of them are lawyers, and a few have real jobs.

      July 4, 2013 at 10:41 pm |
    • Gadflie

      At least five of the church members are lawyers. Most actually work for the state of Kansas.

      July 4, 2013 at 11:04 pm |
    • fibergirl

      Its rather rather diabolic actually....they picket soldiers funerals because the soldiers' buddies with PTSD and a hair-trigger temper attack members of the church, then they sue them which further funds their 'cause'. It sick all the way around... its sick to do to the mourning families, to the gay communities, to our servicemen and to use their kids as bait for lawsuits by pitting them against trained killers. One thing they can do is have dfacs take their kids away for putting them in danger and being totally unfit and that will take the a quite a bit of wind from their sails

      July 5, 2013 at 12:00 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      I saw an interview with his daughter after a big court victory and she would have made a great professional football coach. She could cause Cheney to sweat a bit.

      July 5, 2013 at 1:04 am |
    • Lisa

      Geeze... a Conservative church run by lawyers! I can't think of anything more unholy than that.

      July 5, 2013 at 1:43 am |
  16. George

    The Westboro Baptist Church is a cult and nothing more .... it is run by people who do not even understand the day to day operations of a church and I always say .... the value of a church is measured against what they mean and do for society and these clowns do NOTHING .... apart from throwing tantrums every 5 minutes.

    July 4, 2013 at 10:07 pm |
    • DMG2FUN

      The 1st amend protects them. The very same way it protects you. When you spew your bs that others do not want to hear.

      July 4, 2013 at 10:26 pm |
    • Mrs. Pepperpot

      A WBC cheerleader. How sweet.

      July 4, 2013 at 11:31 pm |
    • Keeping It Real

      Mrs. Pepperpot,

      The ACLU has gone to bat for WBC a few times - ouch! - but I don't think that they are WBC cheerleaders.

      July 4, 2013 at 11:52 pm |
    • Mrs. Pepperpot

      Aw. Another WBC cheerleader. How sweet.

      July 5, 2013 at 12:23 am |
    • Keeping It Real

      Mrs. Pepperpot,

      I have made several other posts on this article which show that nothing could be further than the truth than being a "WBC cheerleader."

      July 5, 2013 at 12:30 am |
    • Mrs. Pepperpot

      I have the same rights as the WBC, don't I? Relax, skipper.

      July 5, 2013 at 12:51 am |
    • Lisa

      Isn't throwing tantrums every 5 minutes what Conservative demagogues like Bill O'Reilly and Sarah Palin do? Hell, Fox News has more tantrums during its daily programming than an average preschool sees in a year. Bunch of whiners complaining every time somebody doesn't want to play by their rules or, worse still, when anyone suggests that rules should be fair!

      July 5, 2013 at 1:39 am |
  17. Gadflie

    While I don't think it's their purpose, the Phelps Pfools have probably done more to advance the cause of gay rights than any other group.

    July 4, 2013 at 10:02 pm |
    • CarrotCakeMan

      Each time an anti-gay posts those same lies here, more Americans support their family members, friends, neighbors and coworkers who are LGBT.

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

      CarrorCake, that's exactly my point. They damn the anti-gay groups by association. All you have to do is point out that someone is on the same side as the Westboro freaks to embarrass the Hell out of them.

      July 4, 2013 at 10:09 pm |
  18. Rocker

    They are not a religious group to pray for innocent soldiers deaths & law abiding citizens.This is an anti-military group,who tax exempt status should not be given to them.It would be like giving the KKK a religious tax exempt status for preaching their hate after holding a prayer session.These people are stealing from the tax payers to further their hateful agenda.That is what needs to be stopped.You don`t see any love the sinner,hate the sin posters carried by them,but death to all soldiers.That should qualify as treasonous,not a religious statement.or free speech.

    July 4, 2013 at 9:45 pm |
    • lol??

      Too late to love dead sinners.

      July 4, 2013 at 9:50 pm |
    • Austin

      I am anti military too. at this stage, I cant endorse any military. i have better things to do. I am free, with or without the USA.

      July 4, 2013 at 10:00 pm |
    • Austin

      and I plan on respectfully complying with the laws of the land.

      July 4, 2013 at 10:01 pm |
    • Akira

      Is there anything you do support, lol?? You hate everything and everyone.what kind of Christian ARE you?

      July 4, 2013 at 10:01 pm |
    • Austin

      Akira, until you align and abide in the Word, you are vile and void.

      Secular filth, yet necessary governemt. there is no difference in allowing a Dr. Johns business, and allowing g.ay marriage. or abortion.

      I applaud anyone willing to heckle of the cause of righteouss guidelines.

      I think we should prosecute the government for allowing po.rn cites on the internet, and and punish for the venue that kills alcoholics while prospering.

      July 4, 2013 at 10:12 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      You're breaking up there, Austin. Celebrating much?

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

      I worked 12 hours hard labor, back at it at 630 am and lookin forward to the weekend for a break. Freedom is not fascilitated by the USA.. people are brainwashed by the war on tv from the 40's on up to fox news.

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

      You go right ahead, Austin. I will continue to thank our veterans for their service to our country. Don't worry, there are still brave people willing to serve and take up the slack for those who won't.

      July 4, 2013 at 10:21 pm |
    • Austin

      parasite lookin to get paid and reitre. if there was a good cause it would be different. this is about spurring the economy.

      July 4, 2013 at 10:24 pm |
    • Austin

      Akira, are we being invaded?

      July 4, 2013 at 10:26 pm |
    • Austin

      Akira, there is nothing special about anyones job. there are plenty of perfectly useless idiots who need that military job. This is war idolatry. this is preping up war and the military.

      I am not interested in the lest, i do feel sorry for people who are desperate or aimless . or obsessed with guns. I consider militray vets as i do plumbers.

      July 4, 2013 at 10:32 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      If everyone were of the same Christian state of mind – forgiving, accepting, humble and charitable – there would be no need of armies or churches.
      As in the army as in churches, the grunts are indoctrinated to obey without question, but the leaders are trained to question everything and find a way to explain a decision so that the end goal is achieved with minimal noise from the peanut gallery.
      Turning the other cheek is a noble sentiment, but it can only be expressed convincingly by a martyr.
      Violence is as powerful an emotion as faith and neither will abide reason.
      The unfortunate truth is that violence only questions itself in the face of equal or greater violence.
      Because there will always be people who are irrationally violent, there must be those who are capable of rational counter-violence to stop them.
      We should all question the motives of leaders who would engage in violence, but have no doubt of the soldier's allegiance.
      Soldiers do not fight and die for God, Queen or Country. The beating of the drum and the skirling of the pipe are but momentary motivations.
      They do it all, including some astounding feats of heroism, for their comrades.
      They will not let their buddies down.

      July 4, 2013 at 10:44 pm |
    • Austin

      Violence is as powerful an emotion as faith and neither will abide reason.

      Hey that statement is worse than nothing. it is complete malarki.

      July 4, 2013 at 11:07 pm |
    • Austin

      if you cant kill someone in the name of God, why bother?

      and you cant. period.

      I do not like guns. this is an evil invention. and no on should be proud that they are fat because of an atomic bomb.

      July 4, 2013 at 11:10 pm |
  19. Rocker

    Hope their hateful church burns to the ground and each time rebuilt until no insurance company will ever cover them again.What idiots !

    July 4, 2013 at 9:35 pm |
    • lol??

      What hate!!

      July 4, 2013 at 9:45 pm |
    • Akira

      The fact that lol?? supports the WBC is shocking, I tell you, just shocking.

      July 4, 2013 at 9:50 pm |
  20. maxim ryazansky

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

    July 4, 2013 at 9:17 pm |
    • lol??

      Get a real job.

      July 4, 2013 at 9:46 pm |
    • ldean50

      Does anyone know where Westboro gets their funding? Surely, surely with only 50 members, they can't possibly afford to picket 50,000 events. We need that information to shine a light on the individuals who fund them – hate groups do not like light.

      July 4, 2013 at 9:55 pm |
    • CarrotCakeMan

      IDeans, many people believe the Catholic and Mormon bosses are still writing checks to anti-gay Hate Cults.

      July 4, 2013 at 10:17 pm |
    • Gadflie

      Many of the Phelps clan (AKA the Westboro Baptist Church) are lawyers. And, they don't hesitate to sue anyone that "defames" them. It's a fine income stream for them.

      July 4, 2013 at 10:24 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.