Why Is the Westboro Baptist Church Picketing Elizabeth Edwards' Funeral?

By Jonsson, Patrik | The Christian Science Monitor, December 11, 2010 | Go to article overview

Why Is the Westboro Baptist Church Picketing Elizabeth Edwards' Funeral?


Jonsson, Patrik, The Christian Science Monitor


More known for using hurtful signs to picket funerals of US soldiers who have died in the Middle East, Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church, whose congregation is mostly related, has vowed to picket the funeral of Elizabeth Edwards on Saturday in Raleigh, N.C.

More known for using hurtful signs to picket funerals of US soldiers who have died in the Middle East, Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church, whose congregation is mostly related, has vowed to picket the funeral of Elizabeth Edwards on Saturday in Raleigh, N.C.

#4 Who are these people?

Based in Topeka, Kan., Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) is an unaffiliated church led by the Rev. Fred Phelps, and attended mostly by some 70 members of the extended Phelps family. The fundamentalist congregation hews to an extreme ideology that condemns homosexuality and believes that America's national misfortunes are a direct result of God's wrath for failing to condemn gays, Catholics, Jews, and others.

WBC came to national awareness in 1998 after the group picketed the funeral of Matthew Shepard, who was beaten to death for being gay. The group pickets every day in the Topeka area, and travels nationally to picket events that are likely to get widespread coverage. Westboro officials claim to have held over 41,000 protests since 1991, picketing events ranging from military funerals to high school theater productions.

Last year, the group picketed Michael Jackson's funeral and released a recording called "God Hates the World" to the tune of "We Are the World," a charity song that Jackson sang on.

Many of its larger protests have been met with counter-protests, some of which have turned ugly. In 2008, WBC picketed the funerals of three students killed in a house fire at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, but were driven off by a group of 1,000 students who confronted them.

#3 Why do they picket military funerals?

During the past decade, Westboro expanded its "God hates fags" crusade by also picketing military funerals, part of its strategy to get maximum effect from its protests.

The group's use of signs such as "Thank God for dead soldiers" have brought it politically charged attention in a country in the midst of military endeavors in Iraq and Afghanistan that have led to the deaths of more than 4,400 US service men and women.

"Our attitude toward what's happening with the war is [that] the Lord is punishing this evil nation for abandoning all moral imperatives that are worth a dime," Fred Phelps has said.

The Patriot Guard Riders, a motorcycle group, fulfills its mission of "shielding the mourning family and their friends from interruptions created by any protester or group of protesters" by revving their engines loud enough to drown out picketers.

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