The founder of Westboro Baptist Church, the Kansas congregation known for its hate-filled protests of military funerals and an intolerance for gay people, has died.
Fred Phelps Sr., who founded the church in 1955, died around midnight Wednesday at the age of 84, his daughter Margie Phelps confirmed. He was being treated at a Shawnee County medical facility.
There will be no funeral, his daughter said.
The group, made up mostly of Phelps’ family, continually tested the boundaries of free speech and the accepted societal standards for decency. According to the church’s website, it has conducted more than 52,000 demonstrations since June 1991 at gay parades and has picketed more than 400 military funerals.
Phelps believed any misfortune, most infamously the deaths of American soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, was God's punishment for society's tolerance of homosexuality.
In 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Snyder v. Phelps that the group’s speech was protected by the First Amendment.
Phelps, who graduated high school with academic honors and a principal appointment to West Point Military Academy, had a religious experience that made him give up West Point and enroll at Bob Jones College in Tennessee. In 1952, he married his wife Margie M. Phelps, and together they had 13 children, 54 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
— Alessandra Malito
First published March 20 2014, 10:15 AM