Westboro Baptist Church leader dies

[tabs tab1=”Sahal’s Take” tab2=”Kylie’s Take”]

[tab id=1]Pastor Fred Phelps, the founder of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church, died of natural causes on March 19. After the news was first brought to the world’s attention, debate ignited almost immediately regarding how the public should conduct themselves.

We are all fully aware of the atrocious protests and rallies orchestrated by the church, but even if protected under the First Amendment, where do we as a society draw the line?

Those afflicted by the cult should protest Phelps’ funeral. By standing up against the Westboro Baptist Church once and for all, their blatant and overly aggressive abuse of one of our nation’s most sacred rights will come to light.

In the town of Topeka, Kan., a small church was founded by 25-year-old Phelps in 1955. A fanatic of the fire-and-brimstone approach of religion, Phelps spent the majority of his life molding his church to reflect his own personal beliefs.

The first official protest conducted by the Westboro Baptist Church was in 1998 when his congregation picketed the funeral of Matthew Shepard. Shepard was a Wyoming man who was brutally tortured and murdered simply because he was gay.

Phelps and his church were quickly thrown into the national spotlight following this event and since then the church has protested over 53,000 events ranging from funerals of celebrities, slain U.S. soldiers and even 9/11 memorials at Ground Zero. Phelps became known by many as the most hated man in America.

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

This has been WBC’s saving grace for all these years and this is why they remain untouched by the judicial system. But, how far should they be allowed to go before it could be considered as something other than protesting?

“I think discomfort is the price you pay for having free speech protections,” associate professor of political science, Jose Marichal said.
“The Westboro case is an extremely offensive one, but they pick those spots to get attention,” Marichal said.

The First Amendment was made to protect the everyday rights of the American citizens. Instead, WBC is using it as a way to attack many groups of people to carry out their message of God’s wrath. Not surprisingly, many people who identify themselves as religious, and more specifically as followers of Christ, continue to be appalled by WBC’s actions.

“As followers of Christ, we are commanded to love one another,” Sarah Koutz, impact campus lead minister said. “They don’t do a good job of conveying God’s love to the public.”

Not only does WBC’s actions stray the public from the religion’s positive messages, it disrupts even the simplest of church functions.
“There were about 11 of them and they came to my church claiming that we were a whore house,” junior Libby Denton said. “I don’t know where they got that from. Maybe because we have a female pastor.”

Denton attends Salem Lutheran Church in Glendale and during one of their gatherings, WBC came and picketed outside their church. They were in Los Angeles to picket the Golden Globes that night and decided to picket some of the biggest churches in Glendale.

They continue to shroud people’s perceptions of religion and its role in society in a negative light. After almost 60 years of tormenting those who are most vulnerable, it’s time to do something about the cult known as the Westboro Baptist Church.


Sahal Farah
Staff Writer
Published April 2, 2014


[tab id=2]If the phrase “You reap what you sow” is truly applicable, then Fred Phelps, the founder of the Westboro Baptist Church, has created a fire storm of bad karma for himself.

Due to his recent passing at 84 years old, there has been an added element to the flurry of controversy attached to Phelps’ name. Should people picket his funeral just as he has picketed the funerals of so many others?

Taking an oppositional stance and respectfully leaving his family to mourn seems like best way to handle this situation. Let Phelps’ bigotry and hatred die with him. It can be said that the Westboro Baptist.

Church is a religious organization based on a platform of hatred and negativity, but as a society, we need to rise above their ignorance and disrespect and serve them the dignity they denied to so many others including homosexuals and military servicemen.

Openly gay California Lutheran University student Brandon Frieberg feels strongly about the way the world should respond to the passing of Phelps.

“While it may seem like picketing and causing a scene at his funeral would be nothing short of satisfying, I think it would be truly gratifying to take the moral high ground and not even acknowledge him at all. By making his work irrelevant we can try to discredit so much of the damage he has done,” Frieberg said.

One of CLU’s religious leaders, Pastor Scott Maxwell-Doherty also feels strongly when asked in an email whether picketing was the way to go.

“Should people picket? Not at all…this is in some clear way an action of those seeking revenge and revenge is a one way street headed to further animosity,” Maxwell-Doherty said.

As far as Phelps’ use of biblical text to promote his agenda, Maxwell-Doherty expressed disappointment.

“It is never a good idea to use any sacred text as the rationale behind hatred,” Maxwell-Doherty said.

Freshman Sarah Pappas, who was raised as a member of the Greek Orthodox Church, felt it was her religious responsibility to respect Phelps’ passing.

“I think that as an Orthodox Christian, I couldn’t feel right about protesting at anyone’s funeral no matter how evil their deeds. At the end of the day, Phelps was someone’s dad or grandpa and I would feel awful trying to ruin what is already a hard period of mourning for them,” Pappas said.

Regardless of what Phelps may have stood for while he was living, it is only right to not harass the families of those who have passed away. It could be all too easy to do unto him what he so wrongly did unto others, but to take the moral high ground is far more satisfying.

Let our legacy as a society be one of tolerance even in extreme situations. Phelps’ hatred and bigotry should be ended with his passing and as we as a society should give him the dignity that he denied to so many who were far more deserving.


Kylie McLogan
Staff Writer
Published April 2, 2014