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. Theseus

    Hosea 9:15 – "All their wickedness is in Gilgal: for there I hated them: for the wickedness of their doings I will drive them out of mine house, I will love them no more: all their princes are revolters."
    ... Westboro is just behaving like true Christians. "Moderate Christian" means forced to deny some of the Bible to be a better person. Follow the Bible to the T... and what you get is religious hate and justification by God for it.

    July 4, 2013 at 2:25 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      nail on the head. funny, i just wrote a post saying the same thing. hehe.

      July 4, 2013 at 2:26 pm |
    • Rory

      Why do you hate God? Why don't you care what He thinks?

      July 4, 2013 at 3:06 pm |
    • Athy

      We don't hate god. How can you hate something that doesn't exist?

      July 4, 2013 at 6:53 pm |
  2. Leonard Washington

    Here's my idea:
    For the most part, any time WBC protests anywhere, they do so by the books (that is to say, they go through the proper channels and secure the necessary permits to do so, that way nobody can legally stop them). When a group protests in this fashion, It is my understanding that they must stay in a designated area. Sooooooo, why couldn't we just surround the designated area that these idiots are in with, say a bunch of coach busses so that they can't be seen, and blast a song like "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" so that they can't be heard? Out of sight, out of mind right??? It would at least spare the families of the deceased from the indignity that WBC hurls in their faces.

    July 4, 2013 at 2:25 pm |
    • Theseus

      That sounds like a lot of work... how about fire?

      July 4, 2013 at 2:27 pm |
    • USMC1371

      We did such actions here in Oklahoma and they left. When you make them feel uneasy they cower and run away.

      July 4, 2013 at 2:35 pm |
    • DWileyOne

      When Westboro sought to protest in at Wilson High School in Long Beach, California, the students (100%) stood on the opposite sidewalk, holding hands, and carrying banners of peace, love, and tolerance. The students didn't say a word ... just stood in silent solidarity. It was pretty inspiring and awesome to see teenagers stand up to evil in the most courageous and dignified way possible. It gives me hope for this world.

      July 4, 2013 at 2:46 pm |
    • steven harnack

      When local communities cover themselves legally the WBC has no more interest. They are completely about stirring up anger to make someone violate their civil/religious rights so that they can sue for maximum dollars. I really doubt that they (the family) even believe the drivel that they shout, they just picked a cause and a target (servicemen's funerals) that will bring out the most emotional anger and cause authorities to make mistakes in dealing with them. It has proven to be an effective business plan that has netted them millions.

      July 4, 2013 at 2:48 pm |
  3. Thinkergal

    Oh, God, those Westboro people are the worst! Ugly, ugly.

    July 4, 2013 at 2:21 pm |
  4. Bhawk

    This complete freedom of religion. Some need to think about long range results. If a business does not have to include birth control in its insurance as a religious reason then what can be practiced in a religion. Human sacrifice ok if the religion has it and the person willing to be sacrificed is willing. Can I avoid all taxes because it pays homage to government (at any level) and that places them above my God. Eventually they will bring about court action on religion.

    July 4, 2013 at 2:21 pm |
    • USMC1371

      They are not a church. Do some research 90 percent of them are related they are a cult.

      July 4, 2013 at 2:38 pm |
    • steven harnack

      They are a business and their one and only product is lawsuits.

      July 4, 2013 at 2:51 pm |
  5. Liz the First

    The fact that this hate mob dares to call themselves a church is an abomination. the fact that they are a tax-exempt organization makes me ill. they are seriously mentally ill and need our pity. they will see how wrong they are when they pass to the other side and are shown the error of their ways. until then, all we as a free society, where they are free to spew their hate, can do is shield the innocent from their sick displays. i commend all the folks who put themselves between these nuts and our honored dead.

    July 4, 2013 at 2:17 pm |
  6. Ron

    "as many as received Him (Jesus), to them He gave the right to become children of God.." .....John 1:12

    July 4, 2013 at 2:12 pm |
    • DoctorDan

      "One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish." Dr. Suess

      July 4, 2013 at 2:13 pm |
    • Theseus

      Leviticus 26:30 – "And I will destroy your high places, and cut down your images, and cast your carcases upon the carcases of your idols, and my soul shall abhor you."
      Psalm 53:5 – "There were they in great fear, where no fear was: for God hath scattered the bones of him that encampeth against thee: thou hast put them to shame, because God hath despised them."
      Psalm 78:59 – "When God heard this, he was wroth, and greatly abhorred Israel:"
      Psalm 106:40 – "Therefore was the wrath of the LORD kindled against his people, insomuch that he abhorred his own inheritance."
      Say what you want about the disgusting Baptists and their denominations... they're still being true, Bible devoted Christians.!

      July 4, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
    • Ron

      Thes, you sound clueless.

      July 4, 2013 at 2:25 pm |
    • Akira

      Thesues, you honestly think God hates gay people so much, He killes children at Sandyhook, like these people contend??

      July 4, 2013 at 2:32 pm |
    • tallulah13

      The point, Ron, is that fiction is fiction, whether it is Dr. Seuss or the bible, so posting quotes from either has the same value.

      July 4, 2013 at 2:36 pm |
    • Akira

      Oops, my post was meant for Ron. Apologies, Theseus.

      July 4, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
  7. Ron

    "I am the resurrection and the life; he that believes in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live" ....Jesus (John 11:25)

    July 4, 2013 at 2:10 pm |
    • DoctorDan

      What does quoting a book on mythology have to do with anything? Don't you realize the reason that the fastest growing "religious" movement in this country is nonbelievers? It's because people are sick and tired of people like you acting as if the bible is some fact, and that people who don't believe in those fairy tales just haven't been touched by your mythological magical sky man.

      July 4, 2013 at 2:15 pm |
    • Ron

      Doc, you sound conflicted.

      July 4, 2013 at 2:19 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      doc is speaking truth.

      July 4, 2013 at 2:27 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Hey, Ron, I thought the DoctorDan sounded pretty straight forward. Please explain why you think he sounds conflicted.

      July 4, 2013 at 2:50 pm |
    • Ron

      Tallulah, he is intimidated by Christians who believe the Bible. Now why in the world would that be, if indeed it is mere mythology?

      July 6, 2013 at 9:21 pm |
    • G to the T

      Ron – I think you are confusing intimidation with exasperation. It really does seem sometimes that christians honestly believe that these fortune cookie quotes change what we believe. For someone with no knowledge of the bible, it's VARIOUS theologies and the history of/context within which it was written maybe, but for the rest of us... just baffling...

      July 8, 2013 at 4:21 pm |
  8. Ron

    "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father, but by Me" Jesus (John 14:6)

    July 4, 2013 at 2:09 pm |
    • DoctorDan

      "I am the walrus, goo goo g'joob" John Lennon

      July 4, 2013 at 2:17 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      "I am what I am – strongs to the finish 'cuz I eats me spinach."
      – Popeye the Sailor Man

      July 4, 2013 at 2:54 pm |
  9. Ron

    "Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God" ....Jesus (John 3:3)

    July 4, 2013 at 2:08 pm |
    • DR. Dan Jr

      “Unless one is wealthy there is no use in being a charming fellow.” – Oscar Wilde

      July 4, 2013 at 2:24 pm |
  10. ug

    This is the church obama likes and goes to...

    July 4, 2013 at 2:06 pm |
    • Sean

      no, sounds like the church YOU go to

      July 4, 2013 at 2:14 pm |
    • US Army Medical Officer

      This is a defamatory statement and I have reported you for it.

      July 4, 2013 at 2:17 pm |
  11. Clem

    H*m*$exuality is unnatural and against common sense, just as you do not put two of the same halves together to make a double-wide trailer home, that would be silly. I truly do feel sorry for gay people, they are missing out on a better way. Why don't gay men marry lesbian women? It seems they would be a perfect match for each other and would get along great.

    July 4, 2013 at 1:59 pm |
    • Akira


      July 4, 2013 at 2:10 pm |
    • Sean

      LMAO, you are an idiot!

      July 4, 2013 at 2:14 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      That's an ok opinion to have, Clem, provided you think that people with a difrerent opinion and s3xuality than you can live with the same rights you enjoy. You don't intend to withhold rights from people who think differently about s3xuality than you do, do you?

      July 4, 2013 at 2:16 pm |
    • G to the T

      The fact that you use a "double-wide" in your analogy just speaks volumes on this end. Either a clever bit of theater or so ironic I'm not sure what to say...

      July 8, 2013 at 4:23 pm |
  12. norma jean.


    July 4, 2013 at 1:58 pm |
  13. Marilyn

    One of the big questions is if Fred Phelps is even alive. He's 83, but was in poor health and hasn't been seen in a long, long time.

    July 4, 2013 at 1:50 pm |
    • tallulah13

      He's probably mouldering away in his house, while his believers carry on and wait for his resurrection.

      July 4, 2013 at 2:51 pm |
  14. Jane Galt

    So the WH can't designated them as a hate group? Fine. But they most certainly CAN revoke their tax-exempt status. This should have been done a long time ago.

    July 4, 2013 at 1:50 pm |
    • Marilyn

      The IRS has to do that, not the White House, and the IRS would probably avoid an ultra-conservative group right now.

      July 4, 2013 at 1:51 pm |
  15. bubba tom

    They can have whatever views they want, that's what free speech means. No group should be labeled a hate group unless they start acts or threats of violence against a specific person or group.

    July 4, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
    • Loki78731

      I think calling for the deaths of our soldiers falls under that heading.

      July 4, 2013 at 2:32 pm |
    • USMC1371

      You may say whatever you like but, you are responsable for the words you speak.

      July 4, 2013 at 2:43 pm |
  16. Reed

    The Westboro Baptist Church is no different than most other Baptist and Bible fundamental churches. They are all against gay people.

    July 4, 2013 at 1:42 pm |
    • Charles Gannon

      Funny that, taking into account a few of the WBC leaderships "colorful" past.

      July 4, 2013 at 2:04 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      And also logic, reason, the scientific method, widespread literacy and the refrigeration of food.
      Freon is a tool of SATAN

      July 4, 2013 at 2:07 pm |
    • Akira

      Doc, the freon comment literally made me laugh out loud. Thanks!

      July 4, 2013 at 3:00 pm |
  17. Smeagel4T

    Just got a text from Zeus and Odin. They say they have no connection to these Westboro fools. Buddha says he didn't dream them up.

    July 4, 2013 at 1:42 pm |
    • Sam I. Am

      I've had Apollo on my speed dial for some time now, but how the heck did you get Zeus and Odin? They're unlisted and I'm envious.

      July 4, 2013 at 2:13 pm |
    • Lucas

      How funny – just got tweet from both Isis and Apollo, pretty much along the same lines!

      July 4, 2013 at 2:15 pm |
    • Loki78731

      I think LOKI would love them. That would be the mythological god Loki, not me.

      July 4, 2013 at 2:34 pm |
  18. rl

    Although a lot of the signers are from Kansas or the area. Westboro would never have gotten so bad without the backing of the good people of Kansas. While they were only protesting a gay funerals they were not thought much of and even encouraged by some of the "Bible people". Only when they started in on soldiers, police, fireman, or little kids did these people get upset. Also a lot of the Phelps family work for the state of Kansas, so we are paying for their trips to stomp on our flag and protest our heros deaths. Kansas is an At Will State and a Right to Work state. Therefore, no unions for public employees and one can be fired any time the employer wants for no reason. Why are they still on the payroll?

    July 4, 2013 at 1:35 pm |
    • Keeping It Real

      Yes, Fred ran for public office several times, "these included races for governor in 1990, 1994, and 1998, receiving about 15 percent of the vote in 1998.[36] In the 1992 Democratic Party primary for U.S. Senate, Phelps received 31 percent of the vote.[37] Phelps ran for mayor of Topeka in 1993[38][39] and 1997.[40]" - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fred_Phelps#Political_views

      He got 31% of the vote in one of them!

      July 4, 2013 at 1:43 pm |
  19. DevilDog1775

    Religious zealots were exposed by Jesus Christ as children of hell. The Pharisees and Sadducee's were the religious leaders and guides of their people, yet Jesus called them hypocrites for their inability to see the kingdom of God before them. If these people were truly religious they would be on the forefront of care for widows and orphans. But instead they are calling attention to themselves in a prideful way, all in the name or our Lord Jesus Christ. People like this will be left behind wondering and saying Lord, Lord, didn't we prophesy in your name, cast out demons in your name, and do many wonders in your name? And He will say, I never knew you, depart from me you who work lawlessness........

    July 4, 2013 at 1:33 pm |
    • Bostontola

      I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.

      Mahatma Gandhi

      Never gets old.

      July 4, 2013 at 1:37 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      "We believe as much in the purity of race as we think they do, only we believe that they would best serve these interests, which are as dear to us as to them, by advocating the purity of all races, and not one alone. We believe also that the white race of South Africa should be the predominating race." : Mahatma Gandhi

      Yes, every time someone quotes Ghandi all you have to do is post Ghandi's racist views towards Africans and dark skin Indians.

      July 4, 2013 at 2:04 pm |
  20. mike

    God hates Westboror Baptist Church.

    July 4, 2013 at 1:27 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Objection! While I would like to agree with you, no basis for any god has been established.

      July 4, 2013 at 1:33 pm |
    • Bostontola

      Your god hates them, but their god loves them.

      July 4, 2013 at 1:35 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      While I would like to agree with you....

      Well, WBC is like Snowden. Snowden has the hatred of both Obama and Cheney, WBC has Atheist and most Christians against them.

      July 4, 2013 at 2:07 pm |
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.