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March 20, 2014

Kansas anti-gay church leader Fred Phelps dies at 84

Kansas anti-gay church leader Fred Phelps dies at 84

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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Fred Phelps preaching from his pulpit in 2002.
Image: Westboro Baptist Church.

Fred Phelps, the founder of the vehemently anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, died yesterday aged 84. The church he founded in 1955 became infamous for leading pickets at the funerals of US soldiers, as well as the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a young gay man killed in a homophobic attack in 1998.

At funeral pickets and other protests, Phelps and other members of his church held brightly coloured signs with messages including ‘God Hates Fags’, ‘Thank God for 9/11‘ and ‘Thank God for Dead Soldiers’. The picketing of military funerals stems from the postion that God is punishing the United States for its acceptance of homosexuality. Military funerals have not been the only sites of Westboro’s protests: the funeral of film critic Roger Ebert and concerts by pop acts Lady Gaga and One Direction — who the church described as “crotch-grabbing little perverts” — have also been targets of Westboro’s protests. The Church has sued a great number of local authorities in the United States who attempted to block their demonstrations and the settlements from their First Amendment cases helped fund their activities. In 2011, the Church won a case at the US Supreme Court which upheld their right to demonstrate at funerals.

Other countries were not so keen: Fred Phelps and his daughter Shirley Phelps-Roper were banned from entering the United Kingdom in order to take part in a planned protest against The Laramie Project, a play about the death of Matthew Shephard. The UK Border Agency stated the Phelpses were not welcome because of their actions “inciting hatred against a number of communities”. The Church has seen a number of widely-reported defections including Megan Phelps-Roper, who used to run Westboro’s social media operation before publicly leaving the congregation and publishing an apology on the Internet.

At Oberlin College in Ohio in 2000, Westboro Baptist Church’s protests caused gay students to respond with a “kiss-in”.
Image: Paul M. Walsh.

Before Phelps’s death, he was excommunicated from the Church — whose members are primarily drawn from his family. Nathan Phelps, Fred Phelps’s son, posted on Facebook last week announcing his father’s hospitalisation and illness: “I’ve learned that my father, Fred Phelps, Sr., pastor of the ‘God Hates Fags’ Westboro Baptist Church, was ex-communicated from the ‘church’ back in August of 2013. He is now on the edge of death at Midland Hospice house in Topeka, Kansas. I’m not sure how I feel about this. Terribly ironic that his devotion to his god ends this way. Destroyed by the monster he made.”

Nathan Phelps continued: “I feel sad for all the hurt he’s caused so many. I feel sad for those who will lose the grandfather and father they loved. And I’m bitterly angry that my family is blocking the family members who left from seeing him, and saying their good-byes.”



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December 20, 2012

Internet security firm to donate revenue to charity after Anonymous protest of Westboro Baptist Church

Internet security firm to donate revenue to charity after Anonymous protest of Westboro Baptist Church

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Thursday, December 20, 2012

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Black Lotus Communications, which “prevents malicious traffic from reaching” websites, such as a Denial-of-service attack (DDoS), has announced their decision to donate revenue made from the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) to charity. The company has confirmed their intentions in a statement to Wikinews.

“We have received overwhelming support for donations to be given to various groups supporting the Newtown community, veterans groups like the Wounded Warrior Project, and LGBT groups like The Trevor Project“, said Jeffrey Lyon, Certified Information Systems Security Professional with the Black Lotus team, to Wikinews. Lyon also says The United Way may be the first charity to receive their donation. “We’ve not [yet] made a formal decision,” Lyon noted, but the company “supports all of these groups and will give very serious consideration in ensuring that our donations have a strong impact.”

The announcement comes after the internet activist group known as Anonymous called on the companies that host and protect the Church’s website to discontinue providing services to them after the Church announced their decision to protest funerals of those killed in the December 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. According to Lyon the company decided to donate revenue made from WBC to charity after, “‘Anonymous’ supporters began a full blown Twitter campaign boycotting any company who provides services to WBC.” Lyon also said the company, “reached out to Anonymous spokespersons and asked their opinions on how the matter should be handled.”

The attack on WBC has been dubbed ‘#OpWestBor’ on the social network site Twitter. As part of the operation, the Church’s website was defaced and taken offline for most of the day Monday. Twitter accounts belonging to Shirley Phelps-Roper, the Church’s spokeswoman, and leader Fred Phelps, were hacked and taken over by Anonymous. At the time of this report, both accounts were still under control of the group. Roper’s account has been under the control of Anonymous since early Monday morning.

On Sunday, in a video posted on YouTube, Anonymous announced their intentions saying, “From the time you have received this message, our attack protocol has past been executed and your downfall is underway. Do not attempt to delude yourselves into thinking you can escape our reach, for we are everywhere, and all-seeing, in the same sense as God. … We will render you obsolete. We will destroy you. We are coming.” As a result of the breach, Anonymous claims to have gained access to and leaked alleged personal information such as names, home addresses and telephone numbers belonging to Church members. On Wednesday, following the leak, Twitter suspended one of Anonymous’ most followed accounts ‘@YourAnonNews’, claiming, according to Anonymous, that the profile posted “private and confidential information” regarding the lawyer for WBC and Roper. The account was reinstated a short time later and that is when Black Lotus contacted Anonymous.

“As a security service, we value freedom of expression … and have mandate to guarantee passage of data across the internet, which ultimately means that companies like Black Lotus should not interrupt services based solely on public opinion. By terminating their service, we would not actually take their sites offline. Instead, they would be without DDoS protection for a short period of time until they found another service that would harbor them. This logic did not add up for us”, Lyon added. He would not elaborate on how long WBC has sought the services of Black Lotus, but stated, “they did not come to us because of any one specific attack.”

Lyon didn’t state how much revenue is made from WBC, but he added the amount they receive “from WBC is very small.” As a result, Lyon says the company will “actually make donations well in excess” of the fees WBC pays. “These donations will be in the thousands [of dollars], but we’ve not come to a final decision on the exact amounts”, he added. According to Lyon, WBC is aware of the company’s intentions.

“We made it clear that while they have a right to expression, we have a social responsibility [to] ensure our services benefit society and to aid those in need”, said Lyon. Wikinews has contacted the WBC for a statement, but as of this report, no response has been received.

For now, Lyon states only revenue received from the WBC will be considered for donation, but they hope the project can be expanded to include other customers. “While we’re attributing this specific decision to WBC, our long term plan is to expand our philanthropy program to substantially offset any harm that may have been caused by those serving content over our network”, said Lyon. The company hopes to formally announce their decisions in a press release at the end of the week.



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March 4, 2011

US Supreme Court upholds right to picket military funerals

US Supreme Court upholds right to picket military funerals

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Friday, March 4, 2011

The United States Supreme Court ruled yesterday that the First Amendment protects the free speech rights of an anti-gay church that pickets the funerals of U.S. soldiers, even if they use hateful and offensive language.

Cquote1.svg As a nation we have chosen … to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate. Cquote2.svg

Chief Justice John Roberts

In an 8 to 1 decision, the Court upheld a lower court’s ruling that struck down an award of US$5 million to a slain soldier’s father, Albert Snyder. Snyder had sued Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas for picketing the funeral of his son, 20-year-old Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder who was killed in Iraq in 2006. Snyder said the protest caused him emotional pain and turned his son’s funeral into a “circus.”

Pastor Fred Phelps

The protest was well publicized, a SWAT team was called, and the funeral procession was diverted away from the protesters, who carried signs such as “Thank God for Dead Soldiers,” “God Hates Fags” and “America Is Doomed.” The funeral itself was not disturbed and it was carried out on public land, following local laws. Snyder learned of the content of the slogans only later on television.

Snyder’s son was not a homosexual. The church pickets military soldiers’ funerals because they believe that the United States is too tolerant of homosexuality and that the death of U.S. soldiers is divine retribution. They have picketed more than 600 funerals.

The Court’s decision rested in part on the basis that the subject of the church’s speech related to controversial public issues and was not a private attack on Snyder. “[The church] conducted its picketing peacefully on matters of public concern at a public place adjacent to a public street,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote in his opinion for the court. “Such space occupies a special position in terms of First Amendment protection.” Roberts said that large number of protests conducted by the church against many groups, including Catholics and Jews, is evidence that Phelps and his church were not personally attacking Snyder, but were “expressing deeply held views on public topics.” Roberts wrote, “As a nation we have chosen … to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate.”

Samuel Alito, the only Justice to rule against the Church wrote that, “Our profound national commitment to free and open debate is not a license for the vicious verbal assault that occurred in this case. In order to have a society in which public issues can be openly and vigorously debated, it is not necessary to allow the brutalization of innocent victims.”

Snyder was disappointed in the ruling: “My first thought was eight justices don’t have the common sense God gave a goat. We found out today we can no longer bury our dead in this country with dignity.”

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