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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

(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."

https://twitter.com/WBCSays/status/352502059846733824

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

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Belief • Christianity

soundoff (973 Responses)
  1. John Wall

    If the mainstream media would STOP giving the 50 members of the "WBChurch" the exposure they desire/want/crave to shove down american's throats, I believe the situation would dissipate. If they receive no publicity, their ego's are NOT being fed and they will stop. Also, Kudos to the Americans, Christian or not, that provide barriers from these self obsessed bigots.

    July 4, 2013 at 3:58 am |
    • Peace to People of Good Will

      You are right. The media needs to stop enabling them.
      I think the group deserves a different type of media attention instead. I would suggest the child welfare people be contacted by concerned citizens in each state, every time they visit.
      Put them under intense health & welfare scrutiny everywhere they go. I suspect they would probably find ample evidence to legally remove the children just for safety violations, let alone mental health issues.
      It is doubtful these children have received adequate physical care or education due to being dragged around 50,000 protests with this group, so let the court ordered screenings begin!
      Unless they can prove these children spend more than 6 months in their home state, they should be classified as migrant youth & subject to the laws in each state they appear in.

      July 4, 2013 at 11:21 am |
  2. makeda1999

    Shaddup, you is somebody when WBC shows up. I laugh at them because it is only Christian performance art that has nothing whatsoever to do with being like that of THE CHRIST or the I AM. They tickle me and karma is sho nuff a b itch!

    July 4, 2013 at 2:50 am |
  3. Sultun Mehmet Bey prophesy

    well labelling this group a hate group would set a precedent then the next to be labeled a hate group would be muslims- since their group leads the world in terrorist killing activity contra any group

    July 4, 2013 at 2:22 am |
  4. eff yuu

    ugh they make Christians look so bad. No wonder theres so many atheists.

    July 4, 2013 at 2:07 am |
    • Odds

      They make themselves look bad. But just so you know, atheism isn't about disliking Christians (or anyone else). It's difficult for an atheist to hate Christians. After all, this is a predominantly Christian country. Most of our friends and family are Christians and many of us were once Christians as well. We do, however, tend to dislike organized religion and the ignorance that it often advances in the name of God. Westboro is a particularly heinous example of that.

      July 4, 2013 at 2:25 am |
    • Kate Johnson

      The Westboro Baptist folks aren't Christians. Jesus said you could tell a tree by the fruit it bears, and their vile and detestable fruit clearly shows them for what they are, children of Satan. They are exactly like their father, they have no honor, no love, no mercy, no grace and most certainly no Jesus. The fact that they defame God by suggesting he condones their hate filled rhetoric and behavior just stores up His wrath towards them. I would find it completely unsurprising to Fred Phelps was actually gay himself, and this is all an exercise in self hatred.

      July 4, 2013 at 3:13 am |
    • Keeping It Real

      Kate Johnson,

      Westboro has a more true-to-form take on The Bible than most Christians. Just shows how nasty that book and its god is.

      July 4, 2013 at 3:22 am |
    • animapersa

      Actually I wouldn't say that. There are the extremists like the WBC, but then there are the many Christians that I know that are the nicest people in the world! I would never make snap judgements based on the actions of a few people/groups. Did it make me an Atheist? Absolutely not, that was an inner decision. But I understand what you are saying... many Atheist extremist giving us a bad name as well, and like you, we're not all that bad.

      July 4, 2013 at 7:16 am |
  5. DKrell

    As a church, the WBC's finances are supplemented by tax breaks, paid for by our taxes. Do we really want our taxes to go to this organization?

    And our taxes supplement the finances of churches that turn a blind eye to and protect clergy who engage in child abuse; have extensive and expensive real estate holdings; and pay their leaders millions. Maybe it's time to revisit this policy of supplementing the finances of churches with our tax dollars.

    July 4, 2013 at 1:52 am |
    • Nah

      drk: "As a church, the WBC's finances are supplemented by tax breaks, paid for by our taxes. Do we really want our taxes to go to this organization?"

      First, your taxes don't "supplement" their finances. Taxes breaks are, by definition, merely a reduction in taxes you would otherwise pay. They're getting nothing but their own money.

      Second, you have no choice in the matter. Unless you're seriously contending that the government should be in the business of giving tax breaks to organizations it likes and increasing taxes on those it dislikes.

      July 4, 2013 at 2:50 am |
    • Truth Prevails :-)

      Separation of church and state only means that the churches stay out of the public arena and the government in turn does not tax them. The WBC is no different than any other church when it comes to tax breaks.

      July 4, 2013 at 6:53 am |
  6. o

    Mat 10:11 And into whatsoever city or town ye shall enter, enquire who in it is worthy; and there abide till ye go thence. And when ye come into an house, salute it. And if the house be worthy, let your peace come upon it: but if it be not worthy, let your peace return to you. And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet.

    July 4, 2013 at 1:04 am |
    • Buckwheat

      I just threw up in my mouth.

      July 4, 2013 at 2:18 am |
    • Filthy Hind I love to Mithrism lick and talk Islam bunk

      please keep your piece, (oops, I mean peace) in your pants.

      July 4, 2013 at 2:42 am |
    • Peace to People of Good Will

      The fact is; the WBC does not offer anyone they picket the peace of God. By offering disrespect & insult to the grief stricken families WBC have no right to claim Christ's Peace dwells within them. Those pitiful soul stunted creatures are digging their own way to perdition with hatred. WBC;shame, shame, shame!
      True Christians are found among the people helping to provide a shield & protect innocent victims from the WBC malice.
      May peace & joy be with all those good hearted protectors, whatever their beliefs!

      July 7, 2013 at 12:12 am |
  7. brian

    Obama should declare religion a disaster area. That's what it is.

    July 4, 2013 at 1:00 am |
  8. KellyinCA

    The figure of 50 members seems, to my recollection, to represent a significant drop in their members. A number of the Phelps grandchildren have left the Church, along with numerous others who've either become disillusioned with the message or with the failure to be effective messengers given the tactics now taken routinely to oppose the Church. I doubt that the WBC will survive the death of Fred Phelps, let alone those of his children. The children lack the conviction of their father and, indeed, may merely see this as an elaborate exercise in chain-yanking.

    July 4, 2013 at 12:51 am |
  9. Balthazaar

    They have said many times that they hope to provoke someone into attacking them so they can sue to fund their hate group activity. Best to just ignore these bags.

    July 4, 2013 at 12:37 am |
  10. south4evr

    Come on Barack-o, turn the IRS and your spy technology loose on the Westboro Baptist Church!! Show them who runs this country!!! You can't allow hate like this to go on. After all, this is just a bunch of Kansas white trash!!! What would you daddy think?

    July 4, 2013 at 12:30 am |
  11. Kathy

    THIS (SO CALLED) "CHURCH" IS SENDING SOME OF ITS LOSERS TO PROTEST AT THE FUNERALS FOR THE 19 FIREFIGHTERS WE LOST HERE IN AZ. SOOOOOOOOOOOO, IF YA WANT TO COME HERE & GIVE US A HAND WITH THEM, WE'D CERTAINLY WELCOME YOU.

    July 4, 2013 at 12:21 am |
    • Angela Birch

      Can't get there, but sure support anything you can do to make these losers fail. To picket the funerals of those who have sacrificed for others or children is as low as you can get.
      My only comfort is that they are seeing defections as the next generation is getting out of their hate filled group.
      Good luck in your endeavors.

      July 4, 2013 at 12:27 am |
    • Athy

      Kathy, turn off your caps lock and make your comment without shouting. More people will listen.

      July 4, 2013 at 12:42 am |
    • Dippy

      And SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO is not a word!

      July 4, 2013 at 12:50 am |
    • Meg

      Kathy if I could come to Arizona I'd definitely be by your side.. What these people do is so disgusting... I'm glad the Hells Angels and many other groups come in to counter them and also help security wise to keep these idiots as far away as possible. I know the government can't label them as a hate group as it is other divisions work to do so but I'd like to see them denied by the IRS as a church that receives tax breaks and all those other perks. Best of luck to your community Kathy and I'm sorry for the loss of those brave firefighters.

      July 4, 2013 at 2:15 am |
    • Filthy Hind I love to Mithrism lick and talk Islam bunk

      There are towns that have effectively neutralized them. Search the web. Have people park in town that day, and take up all the public parking places, that way they will have to walk for miles. It's worked in a number of places. They are too lazy to walk very far.

      July 4, 2013 at 2:46 am |
  12. harrisonhits2

    What liars. They monitor all phone calls and net traffic and lie about it. Now they lie about keeping lists of hate groups. Of course they do. These people in congress and the white house are stealing the wealth of the nation, lying through their teeth all the while and dancing all the way to the bank.

    That's the GOP and Dems, there is virtually no distinction between them as far as their pillaging of the US goes.

    July 4, 2013 at 12:20 am |
    • PennyK

      Like Tea much?

      Please, tell us about Area 51 and the secret files on Ancient Aliens.

      July 4, 2013 at 12:23 am |
  13. Finrod

    There is one thing both Left and Right, Democrat and Republican, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hindu, Buddhist, and atheists can all agree: the Phelpsians suck.

    July 4, 2013 at 12:12 am |
    • Akira

      Right now I wish there was a "like" button. I'd be hitting it right now!

      July 4, 2013 at 12:49 am |
    • Kate Johnson

      Me too!!!

      July 4, 2013 at 3:16 am |
  14. Logicmkay?

    Honestly, I don't like religion. But I can't stand people hating religions for the extremists. Religion can be used for the better, and what was said in the days of old must be adapted to changing times. (Not trying to prevent times from changing from the days of old) Just think, the KKK was mostly Christians refusing to see blacks as their equals, and the WBC is just them refusing to see gays as their equals. But, as the KKK is next to gone, so will the WBC be. Of course, who knows? In time, hate over religion itself may end. Just give it time. (I mean, the 50 members are older, right? They'll be dying soon anyway, let them just burn in hell where they belong...) Religion adapts, plus, maybe if the Vatican came out against them and excommunicated their asses, it might speed up the process.

    July 4, 2013 at 12:05 am |
    • R.M. Goodswell

      Everything that happens in the name of religion....everything ...is using an absurdity to drive that action. Without religion, we would have been far more advanced technologically, more unified...no "god given right" , manifest destiny BS. we would likely be better educated as a whole, creating a much harder environment for despots and madmen to rise, less population etc.. Religion has been pure poison...countless lives lost, centuries burned...believe me ...the extremists are just the icing on the whole rotten mess.

      July 4, 2013 at 12:22 am |
    • Angela Birch

      There is a good side the younger phelps grandkids are abandoning the group and joining people who do not spend their lives hating everyone else. They are going to run out of people but none too soon.

      July 4, 2013 at 1:53 am |
    • Ray D

      Albert Einstein, a man who did more to advance science than a hundred 'regular' scientists, was a Christian. He used science to explore the beauty of the world God created. Just because someone is religious does not mean they oppose science. And just because someone is an athiest doesn't mean they help the advance of science. A few minutes of Reality TV should offer evidence of that.

      July 4, 2013 at 2:54 am |
    • redzoa

      @Ray D – Jefferson too suggested he was a "Christian" but his definition was likely not what you would accept. Similarly, Einstein's beliefs were complex, but consistently rejected notions of a personal deity. Although he appeared to accept the historical Jesus and the basic philosophical framework of Jesus, he was by no means a "Christian."
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_views_of_Albert_Einstein

      July 4, 2013 at 3:20 am |
    • tallulah13

      Ray? Einstein was culturally jewish and seemed to be spiritually agnostic. Please do your research before making claims about the beliefs of others.

      July 4, 2013 at 3:29 am |
    • spiritus

      They're not Catholic, so they have no connection to the Vatican.

      July 4, 2013 at 6:40 am |
    • R.M. Goodswell

      @ Ray D

      he wasn't – and never described himself as Christian....don't take my word for it though, simply Google: Einstein religious views. Baruch Spinoza's philosophy appears to be the closest the man ever came to a "god".

      July 4, 2013 at 11:51 am |
  15. Alan

    Obama, and everyone else, needs to ignore the Westboro church. God will deal with this "church" in his own time. No church can act like this church does, and get away with it forever.

    July 4, 2013 at 12:00 am |
    • PennyK

      Alan
      Have you read any Church history? There is no Superman who is gonna swoop down to stop a church group from abusing people and being overly judgmental when most Christian groups see it as their duty to do so. Criticizing Westboro would only look hypocritical for any other group belonging in the Religious Right because they all do the same thing. Maybe it's to a lesser extent, but that gap is very narrow for plenty of other churches. Besides, plenty of them agree with Phelps, and are just willing for him to say the things they're too cowardly to say publicly themselves. That's why you won't see any strong condemnation from the Religious Right.

      July 4, 2013 at 12:21 am |
    • Randy

      Penny – You seem to have little knowledge of other Christian groups. Most of them do not agree with Westboro or act that way. I am Southern Baptist, and I am proud that Westboro picketed this years (and past years) national convention. I am proud because it shows that Westboro considers Southern Baptist does not share their beliefs and we has major differences from them.

      July 4, 2013 at 2:16 am |
    • PennyK

      Randy
      Just a matter of degree, my friend. The way you see this Westboro is the way we see Southern Baptists.

      July 4, 2013 at 11:53 am |
    • Tom

      They are just using tactics "christians" used not too long ago to expand their religion, they just haven't resort to violence like the latter did. Which is why their membership will never grow. Just think, if the inquisitors of the middle ages did nothing but p!ss people off and not use coercive violence, christianity would still just be a jewish cult! Unfortunately we'would probably all be muslim.

      July 4, 2013 at 12:22 pm |
  16. hoola

    this time, in this era in the U.S. God will be the final judge, its just that by the time the world realizes he is moving things into position it will be too late for them they will be caught up in the turmoils going on around the globe.
    why do you think that things are happening at such a fast pace nowdays? riots storms, murders, political scandels, protests,and the worlds most
    misleading dirty churches masks being taken off to reveal their dirty inner workings

    The creator will definatly set things straight and shut everybody's mouth

    July 3, 2013 at 11:54 pm |
    • Observer

      "riots storms, murders, political scandels, protests,and the worlds mostmisleading dirty churches masks being taken off to reveal their dirty inner workings'

      Nothing new at all. Been going on for thousands of years.

      July 3, 2013 at 11:59 pm |
    • FRDMS2THELFT

      myth upon myth, painting wings on a polka dotted crocadile

      July 3, 2013 at 11:59 pm |
    • ready

      you are such a vain egotistical fool, thinking jesus will come when YOU are alive. clearly you are going to hell for vanity

      July 4, 2013 at 12:03 am |
    • Sue Anne

      By that, you mean the ending of self-rule and democracy here in America, right hoola?

      Hell of an unpatriotic thing to say on the eve of Independence Day! What have you got against the kind of freedom our ancestors fought for to wish it end sooner than later? If you don't like it, then leave!

      July 4, 2013 at 12:06 am |
    • Filthy Hind I love to Mithrism lick and talk Islam bunk

      Nope. That's what you people have been saying for 2000 years.
      Time to learn from the past. Stop doing your scare tactics.
      Even Jebus said the end times would come in his generation.
      You people need a new sorcerer, or repair her crystal ball.

      July 4, 2013 at 2:49 am |
  17. buttwade

    all churches are cults ! they serve the people in line at collections , they spread hate and lies . fear and shame is another church tactic ,, anyway why and who supports these people ? much like the republican fascist party , they too are full of hate , but certainly wouldn't protest at funerals ,,

    July 3, 2013 at 11:47 pm |
    • Ken

      "Cult" is just the word that established religions use to demonize new start-up faiths, and "heretic" is just the word that they use to describe someone whose beliefs don't match their's exactly and might threaten to become more popular.

      July 4, 2013 at 12:09 am |
  18. Meki60

    Obama is now not just a charlatan, he is also an idiot

    July 3, 2013 at 11:40 pm |
    • Observer

      Meki60,

      Obama graduated with honors from Harvard Law School.

      Please list your educational background for comparison to an "idiot".

      July 3, 2013 at 11:43 pm |
    • FRDMS2THELFT

      and has won 2 national elections despite your lunacy

      July 3, 2013 at 11:59 pm |
    • sevres blue

      Too bad you don't even know what a charlatan IS.....

      July 4, 2013 at 12:02 am |
    • Akira

      If Presidential administrations aren't the ones to officially label hate groups, why are you calling him a charlatan and an idiot?

      Oh, I see. Haven't reached your daily gratuitous Obama slams yet, huh?

      July 4, 2013 at 12:44 am |
    • Fearless Freep

      You smell bad.
      Try toilet paper, it works.

      July 4, 2013 at 10:51 am |
  19. Davin

    What we need is an Eastboro Babtist Church headed by Jim Phelps for an east west rivalry. Whoever hates the most people wins. Eastboros' mantra would be ,"Mission Impossible".

    July 3, 2013 at 11:38 pm |
    • Sultun Mehmet Bey prophesy

      and what of the muslim clerics who are enciting the local canadian and american muslims to committ or plan acts of terrorism? none of their names are ever published nor any action taked...why?

      July 4, 2013 at 2:25 am |
  20. dave

    They say they've picketed over 50,000 events. Bull. Do the math. At one event a day, EVERY day it would take 137 years to reach 50,000 picketed events. Fools can't even count.

    July 3, 2013 at 11:37 pm |
    • Davin

      They're living in a fantasy. They make Nazis look good.

      July 3, 2013 at 11:43 pm |
    • Logicmkay?

      Maybe. But, maybe they split into 10 groups of 5. Each group doing 3-6 events a day. That ranges 10950 to 21900 events a year. These numbers ignore Sundays and other religious holidays being skipped for church. I doubt they only do one event a day, though. They effect a large area, so...

      July 3, 2013 at 11:47 pm |
    • Darkknightndc

      Dude, are you really stupid enough to think that the entire congregation packs up and heads out to each event... At one point during the height of the Afgan and Iraq wars when the casualties were fairly high, there were close to a dozen small groups from that church targeting the funerals of dead soldiers...

      WAKE UP!!!!

      July 4, 2013 at 12:31 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.