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. mogran

    Even more phoney baloney drivel

    July 4, 2013 at 9:56 am |
    • MM

      Can you be more specific about what you're referring to?

      July 4, 2013 at 10:35 am |
  2. JS

    As the dinosaurs died off, they tried attracting attention to themselves by making lots of noise as they fell thrashing into the tar pits of extinction. Despite all their noise and thrashing, they still inevitably became extinct. Such is the thrashing and noise of the far right as they march to their inevitable ideological extinction. A more enlightened, accepting, better educated, less prejudice, more compassionate generation is coming of age to replace them. Soon the dinosaurs of ignorance, prejudice, intolerance, and hate will be gone.

    July 4, 2013 at 9:54 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      At least some dinosaurs became birds. Perhaps the haters will develop fine plumage, charming ways, and delight us with their songs. They may taste like chicken.

      July 4, 2013 at 9:58 am |
    • I'm sorry Dave, I can't let you do that

      No they won't. They are inescapable facets of human nature.

      July 4, 2013 at 9:58 am |
    • HeavenSent

      Tom, you're a bird.

      July 4, 2013 at 10:43 am |
    • HeavenSent

      JS, remember, He did it once, He is going to do it again. It is written.

      Genesis 6:7

      And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them.


      July 4, 2013 at 11:03 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Is not the rainbow a reminder of God's promise NOT to commit unicide again?
      Or maybe you're saying that God was lying? BLASPHEMER!

      July 4, 2013 at 11:22 am |
    • Nicodemus Grumpschmidt

      HeavenSent, I love your responses. They're so inane they make for great amusement! Thank you. Let me point out something to you. If you want to win an argument, the source you cite as an authority must be agreed upon by both parties of the debate. Referring to an anthology of fairytales does nothing to support any point you're attempting to make. In other words, you're unknowingly embarrassing yourself. Do yourself a favor and start thinking. Then once you get that process rolling, refer to sources that have validity via evidence. That will give you much more credibility in the future.

      July 4, 2013 at 4:27 pm |
  3. mogran

    This hate group should have been disbanded and jailed long ago...why are they still aloud to throw their hatred at everything this country stands for. I know they are allowed the same freedom of speech we all have but they're overstepped decency and are nothing more than a group of thugs...time to at least jail 'em and fine the ... out of 'em.

    July 4, 2013 at 9:53 am |
    • Rob

      Nothing you've listed is illegal.

      There's no such thing as a right not to be offended. Grow up.

      July 4, 2013 at 9:56 am |
  4. Jeb

    "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." Thank you CNN for including this. Many people have attacked Christians and Baptists over the actions of this hate group when in fact they are neither Baptist or Christian. I don't know what motivates them other than hate and the devil that lives in them.

    July 4, 2013 at 9:52 am |
    • Rodney Hinds

      They are all affiliated since they all have the same playbook -The Holy Bible. a book so flexible that it fits the needs of everybody from Hitler to Mother Theresa. 🙂

      July 4, 2013 at 10:55 am |
  5. Rob

    Instead of gov tyrants labeling people it doesn't like as "hate" groups, it's the job of unelected commissars like the ADL and SPLC.

    July 4, 2013 at 9:51 am |
    • mjmh

      Unelected commissars? Hardly. Just a group of Americans engaging in their 1st amendment right to call 'em like they see 'em. Just as protected as any of the vile speech spewed by bigots and haters.

      July 4, 2013 at 10:32 am |
    • Akira

      It's to prevent the silly accusation of "tyrant" that the government doesn't label groups. See how that works?

      July 4, 2013 at 10:41 am |
    • ShawnDH

      Tyrants? Seriously...you people are insane. What is wrong with you?

      July 4, 2013 at 11:02 am |
  6. GUIED

    He creates you, in the wombs of your mothers, in stages, one after the other, in three darkness. (39:6)

    The amniotic sac contains a fluid that fills the amnion to protect the embryo from desiccation and shock. This substance is a kind of cushion that absorbs shocks, balances exerted pressures, prevents the amniotic membrane from adhering to the embryo and enables the fetus to change position in the uterus. If the fetus could not easily move in the said fluid, it would remain idle as a mass of flesh and would likely suffer injuries leading to various complications.
    The fetus in the mother’s womb is a fragile thing. If it were not protected well, heat, cold, temperature variations, impacts or even the mother’s sudden movement might kill it or cause it irreparable damage. The three zones within the mother’s womb protect the fetus against all sorts of dangers. These are:
    1- The abdominal wall,
    2- The uterine wall, and
    3- The amniotic sac.
    With the level of knowledge at the time, this information could not have been available. The fetus continues to develop in the dark of these three regions. The amniotic sac contains a fluid that fills the amnion to protect the embryo from desiccation and shock. This substance is a kind of cushion that absorbs shocks, balances exerted pressures, prevents the amniotic membrane from adhering to the embryo and enables the fetus to change position in the uterus. If the fetus could not easily move in the said fluid, it would remain idle as a mass of flesh and would likely suffer injuries leading to various complications. Equal distribution of heat enables the fetus to be at a constant temperature: 31°C. We observe that our Creator has designed everything perfectly in its minutest detail, satisfying all the requirements of our body and protecting it against the dangers lurking in the outside world.
    It was also said that verse pointed to the fact that during the stages of creation we passed through three different phases of development. According to this view the three veils of darkness refer to:
    1- The fallopian tubes: Either of the paired oviducts that extend from ovary to uterus for conduction of the ovum in mammals. The sperm, having fertilized the egg, proceeds on along the fallopian tubes. The zygote during this journey begins to divide and reproduce itself.
    2- The uterine wall: The stage during which the embryo hangs on the wall.
    3- Amniotic sac: The sac fills with a fluid that surrounds the fetus. The next step of evolution calls for a longer period of development.
    A glance at the outward aspect presents a uniformity of sight. But were we to dwindle to the size of a tiny cell and explore the environment, we would see how different these chambers were. The first dark space is reminiscent of a monumental tunnel with respect to the cell. The second compartment is a dark forest where no light penetrates, and the third compartment reflects the dark depths of the sea.
    There are three interconnected layers or three spaces through which the fetus passes. God knows whether the reference is to one or to the other. And there are three stages through which the embryo evolves. The three stages in question are:
    1- The pre-embryonic stage: This stage is called the “first trimester.” As the cells multiply, they get organized in three layers; this process takes two weeks.
    2- The embryonic stage: Basic organs begin to emerge from the cell layers. This stage is referred to as the “second trimester” extending from the second week to the eighth week.
    3- The fetus stage: The face, hands and feet appear and the human figure is formed. This is the “third trimester” that extends from the 8th week until birth.
    Our shaping up takes place in stages, in each of which new evidences emerge. Data relative to embryology have been acquired only in the recent past. Neither before the descent of the Quran, nor in the course of the millennium succeeding it can you find such information available. The Quran indicated the composition of the semen, from a drop of which man was created. The Quran coined names that describe the development stages of the embryo; namely hanging to the wall of the uterus (alaq), succeeded by the chewed lump of flesh (mudga). Thus the Quran uses terminology based on the positions the fetus assumes. There was no source before the Quran which asserted that the muscles were made after the formation of bones.
    To assert a scientific fact, a scientific background is a must. It is on such a foundation that other data can rest, which, in turn, calls for advanced microscopes and micro cameras. At the descent of the Quran, there was no such scientific background or such instruments. Nobody of sound mind can come forward and say that the information in the Quran was a result of fortunate coincidences.
    We created the human being in the best design. (95:4)
    Then turned him into the lowliest of the lowly. (95:5)
    Were they created of nothing or were they themselves the creators? (52:35)

    July 4, 2013 at 9:44 am |
    • ed dugan

      You are in desperate need of therapy. Please get it as soon as possible.

      July 4, 2013 at 9:49 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      This is what became of Chad. He became a Muslim.

      July 4, 2013 at 9:53 am |
    • mogran

      Phoney baloney drivel.

      July 4, 2013 at 9:55 am |

      We don't need your Quran quotes. Take them home and keep them to yourself. Nothing good comes out of that nonsense.

      July 4, 2013 at 9:55 am |
  7. Ann

    Of course they're a hate group, just like the Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, etc.

    July 4, 2013 at 9:40 am |
  8. Ken

    Shouldn't the Westboro Church be classified as a hate group?

    July 4, 2013 at 9:39 am |
  9. jtt

    Westboro Church business model: litigation.

    The church is a run by a family full of lawyers who troll or protest for provocative value. It's done on purpose so the people will be enraged and sue the church. Because of legal technicalities (mainly the 1st amendment), the church almost always wins and gets to collect payment. I wish the media would concentrate on this aspect rather than their protests, which just gives them more fodder to use.

    July 4, 2013 at 9:37 am |
  10. Maverick

    If someone shot all of these people would anyone be angry at that person?

    July 4, 2013 at 9:34 am |
    • I'm sorry Dave, I can't let you do that


      July 4, 2013 at 9:36 am |
  11. Dave do orphan

    The Phelps clan only turned to picketing when none of them could get elected to political office. Their party? democrats. Yes, the Phelps ran under the banner of the Democratic Party.

    July 4, 2013 at 9:31 am |
  12. What is going on? FREEDOM

    Westboro Church is the face of Satan. Christians should take note about it.

    July 4, 2013 at 9:23 am |
  13. Clarke

    What freedoms has your Government taken away?

    July 4, 2013 at 9:18 am |
    • What is going on? FREEDOM

      Can't fire/hire who I desire? That is probably a good thing that you can't.

      July 4, 2013 at 9:24 am |
    • I'm sorry Dave, I can't let you do that


      July 4, 2013 at 9:25 am |
    • What is going on? FREEDOM

      There are multiple reasons. I am not saying you are racist or prejudicial, but what happens if someone is in your position that is?

      July 4, 2013 at 9:27 am |
    • I'm sorry Dave, I can't let you do that

      If a racist owns their own business and doesn't wish to hire somebody of another race, they shouldn't be compelled to. It is their business after all.

      July 4, 2013 at 9:29 am |
    • Open the pod bay door

      If you own a business, that business can exist because of the society you live in. Many things are expected of you because you enjoy the benefits of society. Those things are necessary to make society work for you and the rest of us.

      July 4, 2013 at 9:39 am |
    • I'm sorry Dave, I can't let you do that

      Says who?

      July 4, 2013 at 9:40 am |
    • What is going on? FREEDOM

      I'm sorry Dave that is discrimination. Look up the Supreme Court cases where people have tried to do that and lost.

      July 4, 2013 at 9:56 am |
    • I'm sorry Dave, I can't let you do that

      That's exactly why I had it in my list.

      July 4, 2013 at 9:57 am |
    • What is going on? FREEDOM

      I'm sorry Dave. I wasn't supporting you.

      July 4, 2013 at 10:03 am |
    • I'm sorry Dave, I can't let you do that

      I never thought you were.

      July 4, 2013 at 10:04 am |
  14. Tom, Tom, the Other One

    "Today is the Day of Independence for all the Munchkins and their descendants"

    Isn't it nice to know
    That Good will conquer evil
    The truth we all believe'll by and by
    Outlive a lie
    For you and ...

    No one has dropped a house on Mr. Phelps and his family. Pity.

    July 4, 2013 at 9:16 am |
  15. Jimmy Knoxville

    I was under the impression that the westboro-baptist-church protested at soldiers funerals because they were disgruntled with the lack of support they received from police for the bombing years ago.

    The church also states on its website why they only follow certain laws of the Hebrew Torah, while totally ignoring others. Its laughable and hypocrisy. Either follow all the laws or none of them and avoid the Hypocrite Label.

    July 4, 2013 at 9:11 am |
  16. LakeRat1

    It's been shown time and again that there is no legal way to make them stop their obnoxuous behavior. Since they thrive on people's contempt, the best thing to do is ignore them. This means, among other things, DON'T WRITE CNN NEWS STORIES ABOUT THEM!

    July 4, 2013 at 9:05 am |
  17. Logic & Reason

    Actually the U.S. Government DOES keep a list of hate groups. They are called terrorists! Stop lying!!

    July 4, 2013 at 9:05 am |
  18. Nothing to celebrate

    Happy Independence Day to all of us living in this oppressive police state. whee.

    July 4, 2013 at 8:55 am |
  19. jod

    Why do so many people pretend that the "We the People" website is real?

    July 4, 2013 at 8:54 am |
  20. DMG2FUN

    The1st amend means you will hear and see things you do not agree with. The leftist aka progressive socialist hide behind it to spew their hate. Then demand others be denied their 1st amend right.

    July 4, 2013 at 8:54 am |
    • Nothing to celebrate

      And you can still complain about it like the stupidest hypocrite, too.
      Welcome to the USA police state. Your freedom is an illusion.

      July 4, 2013 at 8:58 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13
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.