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Fred Phelps is no Favorite Son

Dateline: May 27, 2000

Fred Phelps is one of my favorite bad guys in that no matter what position he takes he always goes that (at least) one step too far that makes him look horrific to even the most ardent homophobe, including leading a "protest" at the funeral of Matthew Shepard.

Phelps is the founder and leader of the Westboro Baptist Church, a church with membership comprised primarily of himself and his family members. Their church website sports the rather well-known "God Hates Fags" URL which in the past has let us know that Mother Theresa and Princess Di were burning in hell.

All of this is happening in Topeka, Kansas, and apparently the otherwise good people of Topeka have had enough.

On May 9, 2000, the City Council of Topeka, Kansas, unanimously passed a resolution stating that the city will "pursue strategies to control and constrain hateful behavior and hateful actions ... and promote positive alternatives." While the text of the resolution never mentions Phelps specifically, it is pretty clear he is the target of the resolution. (After all, how many hate mongers can live in one small town?)

The city has to be careful. Not only can't (and shouldn't) it remove the protections that Phelps does have under the first amendment of the United States Constitution, Phelps is also trigger happy when it comes to lawsuits.

In 1995 Topeka passed an ordinance limiting pickets. Phelps sued, and the city was out-of-pocket almost $50,000 in legal costs. The actions did not cost Phelps quite as much. Not only is he a licensed attorney, but so are many of his offspring. Nothing like having an attorney or a dozen in the family to keep down the cost of litigation.

It took five years before the city was ready to try another anti-hate resolution, originally proposed in November, 1999 by Council member Clark Duffy, buried in committee and finally reintroduced in April, 2000.

The night of the Council vote a group calling itself "Concerned Citizens of Topeka" rallied at the Kansas Statehouse in order to show local support for the pending resolution. There were so many people present the vote was moved from last on the agenda to first up --- the resolution passed, but Phelps has already threatened legal action on first amendment grounds. Not speech, but rather religious, claiming that the resolution against hate speech is "a message of disparagement against our religion." This last from Margie Phelps, daughter of Fred and, yes, an attorney.

In pride,
Deborah

P.S. Don't miss Addicted to Hate, the entire text of a book written about the founder of godhatesfags.com, his family, and the battle to have the work published.


 

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Drop a note to Deborah at gaylesissues@rslevinson.com

copyright 1986-2010 Deborah Levinson