The Associated Press is reporting that the Rev. Fred Phelps Sr., who founded a Kansas church that’s widely known for its protests at military funerals and anti-gay sentiments, is in a care facility and close to death.
Westboro Baptist Church spokesman Steve Drain wouldn’t identify the facility, but said: “I can tell you that Fred Phelps is having some health problems. He’s an old man, and old people get health problems.”
Members of the Westboro church, based in Topeka, frequently protest at funerals of soldiers with signs containing messages like “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.
Phelps’ estranged son, Nate, posted his sentiments on Facebook:
Although Westboro Baptist Church is a small group made mostly of Phelps’ extended family, Nate excommunicated nearly 37 years ago. Since his post went public, Nate has received countless messages of support for his impending loss.
The hate group (as classified by the Southern Poverty Law Center) 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.
Nate shared that members of Westboro voted Fred Phelps out of the church. Phelps was moved into a house, where he “basically stopped eating and drinking.”
The Topeka Capital-Journal reported:
The excommunication occurred after the formation of a board of male elders in the church. The board had defeated Shirley Phelps-Roger, the church’s longtime spokeswoman, in a power struggle, and Fred Phelps Sr. called for kinder treatment of fellow church members.
The board then ejected Fred Phelps Sr., who founded the church in the 1950s.
Among the members of the church’s board of elders are Fred Phelps’ sons Jonathan Phelps and Timothy Phelps, and Steve Drain, who is now the church spokesman.
For many years, Phelps and his wife, Margie Marie Phelps, lived in an upper floor of the church. The couple have 13 adult children, nine of whom remain in the church and four of whom have left the church.
In a September 24, 2012 article titled, “Son of a Bigot,” Nate said: He didn’t start the ‘God hates fags’ campaign until after I left [the Church]. But throughout our childhood there was that inclination toward conflict with neighbors and community members, and he absolutely required of us, whatever form it took, as well as this putting the word out there that everybody in the world was going to hell, that had to be presented with the same kind of vitriolic fury that he did it, or then we’d end up getting in trouble if we weren’t vicious enough. Without a doubt you don’t have an option in that environment, and I’m quite certain that’s still the case that those kids that are out there, the young ones and even the teenagers, they’re not necessarily there because they want to be, they have to be there.”