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Understanding the Westboro Baptist Church

Westboro Baptist Church

What is the Westboro Baptist Church?

The Westboro Baptist Church is an independent religious institution known its extreme and hateful stance against homosexuality. The Westboro Baptist church makes their sentiments towards homosexuality known through harsh protest activities that involve obscene acts of hatred against the homosexual community. The Westboro Baptist Church has often picketed funerals of deceased gay community members and desecrated on the American flag.

The Westboro Baptist Church, because of these egregious and hateful actions, is often described as a hate group. As a result of this classification, the Westboro Baptist Church is frequently monitored by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League.

The Westboro Baptist Church is run and headed by Fred Phelps; the hierarchy of the Westboro Baptist Church consists mostly of Phelps’ family members. The Westboro Baptist Church is located on the western portion of Topeka, Kansas, approximately three miles west of the Kansas State Capitol.

The Westboro Baptist Church has commonly participated and been involved with the anti-gay movement since 1991. During its origins, the Westboro Baptist Church sought a crackdown on homosexual activity at Gage Park, which is located approximately six blocks from the Church. In addition to their hate-filled protests, the Westboro Baptist Church has conducted anti-gay marches at military funerals and celebrity funerals to garner media attention.

The West Baptist Church is not affiliated with any formal Baptist conventions or associations. The Church justifies their hateful rhetoric and actions by claiming they are devout followers of Calvinist and Primitive Baptist principles. Although these statements are routinely offered by the leaders of the Westboro Baptist Church, mainstream Primitive Baptists reject the hateful actions undertaken by Phelps and his organization.

Supreme Court Case against the Westboro Baptist Church:

On March 10, 2006 the West Baptist Church picketed the funeral of a fallen Marine. The family of Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder sued the WBC for defamation, invasion of privacy and the intentional delivery of emotional distress.

On October 31, 2007, Fred Phelps and his two daughters were found liable for invasion of privacy and for the intentional infliction of emotional distress. A federal jury awarded the Snyder family $2.9 million in compensatory damages, then later added $6 million in punitive damges for invasion of privacy and an additional $2 million for causing emotional distress. The organization, although forced to pay these fines, claimed that it would not change its stance towards the homosexual community as a result of the verdict.

On September 24, 2009 a federal appeals court ruled in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church and effectively reversed the lower court’s awards. The appeals court stated that the picket line was protected by the 1st amendment because it involved “matters of public concern, including the issues of homosexuals in the military, the sex-abuse scandal within the Catholic Church and the political and moral conduct of the united States and its citizens.” On march 30, 2010, the appeals court ordered the Snyder family to pay the church’s court costs. This ruling sparked a nationwide protest; over 3,000 Americans, including many media figures, offered to donate to the Snyder family and pay the fines associated with the WBC’s court costs.

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