Westboro Baptist Church

File photo / Topeka Capital-Journal

Fred Phelps has been a lightning rod of controversy for decades. The late head of the Westboro Baptist Church, who famously picketed funerals of American soldiers and LGBT people, died Wednesday.

On Friday's Up to Date, we discuss the quandary media organizations have faced: How do you decide when events like this are truly newsworthy and when you’re just giving hate groups free publicity?


file photo / The Topeka Capital-Journal

Rev. Fred Phelps Sr., founder of the controversial Westboro Baptist Church, died around midnight Thursday. 

For almost 24 years, Phelps and his small group of followers have made themselves infamous for leading anti-gay demonstrations at natural disasters, mass killings and funerals.

In his mind, Phelps said in a 2006 interview, every catastrophe, attack or misfortune was God’s retribution for America’s failure to castigate gays.

That’s my job man,” Phelps told KCUR. “To cause this evil country to know their abominations."

Mick Thompson / Where The People

The White House has formally responded to five petitions that request Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan. have their non-profit status revoked and that they be federally recognized as a hate group.

Nearly 700,000 people have signed the petitions since December 2012 when they were created.

In a post on the White House website the administration says while they do not maintain a list of hate groups, they agree that the practices of Westboro Baptist are "reprehensible."

Aaron Jackson took inspiration from a 9-year-old kid who stood up to Westboro Baptist Church protesters.

As Mark wrote last year, Josef Miles stood in front of protesters carrying signs that read "God Hates [Gays]" with his own sign that read "God Hates No One."

Today, Jackson is following through on a project that started about six months ago when he decided to buy a house across the street from the infamous church in Topeka, Kan.

Westboro Defectors

Mar 11, 2013

The Westboro Baptist Church is notorious in the area and nation-wide for their protests of soldier's funerals and anti-gay messages. Fred Phelps and his followers, based in Topeka, travel the country spreading their messages of hate and last year a petition to label them an official hate group was introduced.

Council Approves Funeral Picketing Ban

Nov 2, 2012
Photo from the Westboro Baptist Church web site.

Kansas City again has a law restricting picketing at funerals, such as is done by members of the Westboro Baptist Church.

The Kansas City council will vote Thursday on an ordinance to restrict the Westboro Baptist Church's picketing of military funerals.