Fred Phelps, founder of Westboro Baptist Church, dies

Pastor Fred Phelps (left) and one of his followers (right). (Images: Wikipedia)

Pastor Fred Phelps (left) and one of his followers (right). (Images: Wikipedia)

TOPEKA, Kan. — Pastor Fred Phelps, known for heading the controversial Westboro Baptist Church that pickets military funerals, has died.

WIBW-TV reported that one of Fred Phelps’ sons confirmed he died before midnight Wednesday.

The 84-year-old was being cared for at the Midland Care Hospice in Topeka, according to CJOnline.com.

Phelps founded Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, in 1955 and molded it in his fire-and-brimstone image. Many members of the small congregation are related to Phelps through blood or marriage.

According to the church’s website, it has picketed more than 53,000 events, ranging from Lady Gaga concerts to funerals for slain U.S. soldiers. Typically, a dozen or so church members — including small children — will brandish signs that say “God Hates Fags” and “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.”

Under Phelps’ leadership, Westboro members have preached that every calamity, from natural disasters to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, is God’s punishment for the country’s acceptance of homosexuality. Phelps had advocated for gays and lesbians to be put to death.

In 2013, more than 367,000 petitioners called on the White House to legally recognize Westboro Baptist Church as a hate group. The White House called Westboro’s protests “reprehensible” but said that “as a matter of practice, the federal government doesn’t maintain a list of hate groups.”

In 2011, the Supreme Court upheld Westboro’s right to picket military funerals on free speech grounds. Congress and several states, though, have passed laws aimed at keeping church members at a distance from funerals.

Nathan Phelps, Phelps’ estranged son, posted a Facebook message March 15 saying that his father had been excommunicated from the church. Later, though, Nathan Phelps said it was “unclear” whether his father had been expelled from Westboro.

Westboro declined to say whether Phelps has been excommunicated. A church statement said March 16 that “membership issues are private” and that eight unnamed “elders” lead the Westboro congregation.

CNN contributed to this report

22 comments

  • blueskyday

    I wonder if he will have to have a private burial and memorial, so people won’t be able to come and picket his funeral…. not that I think people should do that, in response to his wickedness… but I’m sure there are people who would want to do so.

  • Charlotte

    May he rest in peace and find the compassion, understanding and kindness that evaded him in life and that he was unable to find for others. And, may he be met on the other side by those who he disrespected in death, and find that he is embraced by their love and light. I thank you for giving me one more purpose in life. Without the hatred you directed towards those that so bravely paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms (yours too), I would not have found myself in the company of some of the finest patriots I have ever known in the Patriot Guard Riders. We will continue to honor our fallen and comfort their families. Perhaps, in your death, your family and “church” members can empathize with the pain and loss that the families of fallen service members experience and also find grace and the decency to allow them their ritual of grieving without these outrageous demonstrations.

  • Blah

    It wouldn’t make any difference to picket his funeral. I had always hoped that when he passed that it would end the church but now I know that isn’t going to happen.

  • Matthew

    learnthe law is a real funny person. So funny infact im sure she is one of the members of that joke of a cult. How does it feel to know that you sorry face of devil shit pastor is burning in hell right now as we speak.
    Real LOL stuff. By the way me and about 15 of my US.Army fags as you call us. Guys I served with in Iraq and Afghan. We will be there to protest his service as well as more social groups im sure. All you are going to burn in hell. Thank god that his life has come to an end. God has no place for you or your people in his kingdom.

  • lolly

    This man was the epitomy of evil hiding behind the name of God. This is exactly why a lot of people want nothing to do with organized reiligon. This man was NOT of God, he used religion as a shield to preach his message of hate. The world needs to learn tolerance and teach their children by example that we don’t have to agree with what others choose in order to allow them to be who they are and to be able to live how they choose. Can’t say I will miss him…

  • dewey

    I could post something here in a celebratory manner, but then that would make me as bad as him….I hope he finds a peace in death that he couldn’t find in life….he too, was someone’s father/husband/brother, even if he was wrong as 2 left shoes

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