TOPEKA, Kansas – The Rev. Fred Phelps Sr., who founded a Kansas church widely known for its protests at military funerals and anti-gay sentiments, has died according to his son Tim Phelps and Kansas First News.
Phelps, 84, was being cared for in a Shawnee County facility, Westboro Baptist Church spokesman Steve Drain said Sunday.
Members of the Westboro church, based in Topeka, frequently protest at funerals of soldiers with signs containing messages such as “Thank God for dead soldiers,” and “Thank God for 9/11,” claiming the deaths are God’s punishment for American immorality and tolerance of homosexuality and abortion.
Westboro Baptist, a small group made mostly of Phelps’ extended family, inspired a federal law and laws in numerous states limiting picketing at funerals. But in a major free-speech ruling in 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the church and its members couldn’t be sued for monetary damages for inflicting pain on grieving families under the First Amendment.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil-rights nonprofit group, has called Westboro Baptist Church a hate group.