WASHINGTON (RNS) In response to five “We the People” petitions, the White House condemned the actions of the Westboro Baptist Church but said it is powerless to list the Kansas church as a hate group and remove its tax-exempt status.

Westboro Baptist Church members protest at a Presbyterian church in Madison, Wis. Photo courtesy cometstarmoon via Flickr

Westboro Baptist Church members protest at a Presbyterian church in Madison, Wis. Photo courtesy cometstarmoon via Flickr

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The White House response on Tuesday (July 1) said the federal government does not maintain a list of hate groups, instead leaving that task to private organizations, such as the Anti-Defamation League and Southern Poverty Law Center. Both have called Westboro a hate group.

Westboro Baptist Church, based in Topeka, Kan., is best known for its graphic “God Hates Fags” signs and its continued picketing of military funerals.

The White House response mentioned that President Obama signed a 2012 law that restricts protesting within 300 feet of military funerals during the two hours before and after a service.

The response also said the White House cannot comment on petitions that request law enforcement or “adjudicatory action.”

“That all said, we agree that practices such as protesting at the funerals of men and women who died in service to this country and preventing their families from mourning peacefully are reprehensible,” the response stated.

Officials from Westboro, which is led by patriarch Fred Phelps and members of his extended family, could not be reached for comment.

All “We the People” petitions that reach 100,000 signatures within 30 days receive a response from the White House. The White House can also choose to respond to petitions with fewer signatures.

The five petitions received 674,569 signatures; more than 413,000 supported listing Westboro as a hate group, and more than 260,000 asked the White House to revoke or investigate its tax-exempt status.

The petitions, which were all created last December following Westboro’s plans to picket the funerals of shooting victims in Newtown, Conn., question Westboro’s legitimate standing as a church, with one petition saying it “is better-known for homophobic displays, suing people and picketing funerals than for providing Christian care to a community.”

Despite Westboro’s controversial actions, the Supreme Court in 2011 ruled 8-1 in favor of the church’s right to continue protesting, with Chief Justice John Roberts saying the First Amendment protects “even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate.”

The petition with the most signatures — 367,180 — titled “Legally recognize Westboro Baptist Church as a hate group,” said Westboro poses “a threat to the welfare and treatment of others and will not improve without some form of imposed regulation.”

The White House created a map using zip codes provided by signers of the petition, which shows that support was densely concentrated in Kansas and Newtown, Conn.

“Moreover, one of the remarkable things about this set of petitions is that it shows just how strong the bonds that unite us can be,” the White House response said. “Together, we’re more resilient than those who would try to drive us apart.”


  1. Earold Gunter

    The muslims have the taliban, the christians have the westboro weirdos. Most can agree that their beliefs are at the extreme end of each religion. Unfortunately however, not many seem to be able to grasp the concept that a belief in any religion, even those with beliefs that are outside the outer fringes of acceptability like these people, serve to normalize belief in the unreal, unprovable, and supernatural. Better to believe in science and reason, than fairytales.

    • That’s actually a compliment to Christians, as WBC has all of about 40 members. And I read that two young women quit the organization, so make that 38.

      Of course, strident and reactionary white Liberals (cough Rachel Maddow cough) have you all believing that WBC is a mega church with millions of members.

    • Of course there are huge differences. Christians haven’t been blowing themselves up or killing others like Islamic extremists. I get tired of liberals trying to connect Muslims with Christians. It’s a ridiculous connection with no basis in fact. Go to Thereligionofpeace.com if you want to see the daily killing committed by Islamic radicals.

      • You realize the crusades were led by Christians who were told by priests they were doing the work of god…that was loooooong before the “Taliban” existed…

    • Hey Earold, if God grants you the grace and you get to lie on a deathbed still able to think straight before you die, what are you going to say then? Life on this planet isn’t forever, you know…..So tell us, without insulting the God you say you don’t believe in, what will you do with eternity staring you in the face? You probably won’t be so cheeky then. Human reason is what gave the world the reign of terror during the French revolution, the millions of murdered by communist governments and the Nazi Party. Great people to emulate, wouldn’t you say?

      • Thomas Jefferson

        Are you saying there has never been a religiously based war?

        A list of such wars and religious atrocities is far too long to show here. But here are a couple of links..



        And Hitler was a Catholic. He is one of yours.

  2. Westoro is their own worst enemy anyways. They picket funerals purely for the shock value, and because they picket them so often they’re losing that shock value as people get used to it and just ignore them.

  3. I’m glad to hear the White House will not list this church as a hate group. Westboro Church is a vile, discussing organization BUT they are a church and I would hate to see the government take this step in stifling freedom of religion and free speech. It’s a slippery slope and once taken it makes it easier and easier to shut down other, far less inflammatory, even mainstream churches that the government doesn’t like for any number of reasons.

  4. Obama and his supporters should be denounced as a
    ‘hate group’ of Life
    ‘hate group’ of Christians
    ‘hate group’ of Free speech
    ‘hate group’ of Privacy
    ‘hate group’ of the Constitution

  5. The White House does not determine groups as “hate groups” although this gives private organizations incentives to label them as such. The government should investigate their exemption status.

  6. Westoro is that the worst enemy of every case. this is often strictly for the shock price, and since they typically picket if they lose their shock price that individuals get accustomed it and that they simply ignore it. ceremony picketing

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