Westboro Baptist Church founder Fred Phelps dead at 84

Thu Mar 20, 2014 2:52pm EDT
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By Bill Trott

(Reuters) - Fred Phelps, the pastor who led a small Kansas church's vitriolic "God Hates Fags" anti-gay campaign across the United States, has died, the church said on Thursday.

Phelps, whose Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, won a 2011 freedom-of-speech U.S. Supreme Court decision related to their anti-gay picketing, died on Wednesday in a Kansas hospice at the age of 84.

"People die - that is the way of all flesh," a blog post on the church's website said.

Phelps founded the church in the 1950s.

In his later years, Phelps, known as "Gramps" to his family, turned over much of the church's day-to-day operations to his offspring.

In March, his son Nathan, who ran away from home as soon as he turned 18 and later became a gay rights advocate, said in a Facebook posting he had learned Phelps was near death in a hospice and that he had been excommunicated in 2013. The church would not confirm the excommunication report, saying membership issues were private.

Phelps' church was widely denounced as a hate group and was not part of any mainstream Baptist organization. Its membership has been estimated at about 100, many of whom were related to Phelps.

By Phelps' reasoning, cancer, the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, school shootings and the deaths of soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as other tragedies involving Americans, were God's retribution for a lax attitude toward what he called "the modern militant homosexual movement".   Continued...