What is the Westboro Baptist Church?

The Westboro Baptist Church is an Independent Baptist church and hate group known for its anti-homosexuality and its protest activities, which include picketing funerals and desecrating the American flag.

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Picketing is a form of protest in which people congregate outside a place of work or location where an event is taking place. Often, this is done in an attempt to dissuade others from going in (“crossing the picket line”), but it can also be done to draw public attention to a cause.

The Westboro Baptist Church is headed by Fred Phelps and consists mostly of members of his large family.

Located in a residential neighborhood on the west side of Topeka about three miles west of the Kansas State Capitol at 3701 West 12th Street, Topeka, Kansas, US, its first public service was held in November 1955.

The church has been actively involved in the anti gay movement since at least 1991 when it sought a crackdown on homosexual activity at Gage Park about a mile northwest of the church.

The WBC is not affiliated with any known Baptist conventions or associations. The church describes itself as following Primitive Baptist and Calvinist principles, though mainstream Primitive Baptists reject the WBC and Phelps.

Lawsuits

The pickets have resulted in several lawsuits.

In 1995, Phelps’s eldest grandson, Benjamin Phelps, was convicted of assault and disorderly conduct after spitting into the face of a passerby during a picket.

In the 1990s the church won a series of lawsuits against the City of Topeka and Shawnee County for efforts taken to prevent or hinder WBC picketing, and was awarded approximately $200,000 in attorney’s fees and costs associated with the litigation.

In 2004, Margie Phelps and her son Jacob were arrested for trespassing, disorderly conduct and failure to obey after disregarding a police officer’s order during an attempted protest.

In response to pickets at funerals, Kansas passed a law prohibiting picketing at such events. In the autumn of 2007, the father of a Marine whose funeral was picketed by the WBC was awarded $5 million in damages.

On October 7, 2010 crowds gathered outside the US Supreme Court as the justices considered whether the right to free speech protects an anti-gay religious group that pickets military funerals displaying signs that read: “Thank God for dead soldiers.”

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