TOPEKA, Kan. — The Rev. Fred Phelps Sr., the founder of a Kansas church known for anti-gay protests and pickets at military funerals, has died. He was 84.
Daughter Margie Phelps says Phelps died shortly after midnight Thursday. She didn’t give the cause of death or the condition that recently put him in hospice care.
Phelps Sr., whose church is widely known for its anti-gay sentiments and protests at military funerals, was being cared for in a Shawnee County facility, according to Westboro Baptist Church spokesman Steve Drain.
Members of the church 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.
Westboro Baptist, a small church composed 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.