MSNBC host Joe Scarborough invited Jael Phelps, an anti-gay activist whose church maintains a website called "God Hates Fags," to appear on the March 1 edition of Scarborough Country. Phelps is the granddaughter of anti-gay activist Rev. Fred Phelps Sr. and a member of Rev. Phelps's Westboro Baptist Church, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated a hate group. Scarborough, a former Florida congressman, challenged Phelps's views and tactics, but his show provided Phelps a forum to promote those views, which included: "The prescribed punishment for homosexuality in the Bible is death. They're worthy of death, and those people who condone that action are just as guilty."
Rev. Phelps has been pastor of the Topeka, Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) since its founding in 1955. Beyond "God Hates Fags," WBC is known for picketing the funerals of AIDS victims and celebrating the 1998 murder of gay Wyoming college student Matthew Shepard. According to the church's website, Rev. Phelps and WBC "intend to erect" a monument in Casper, Wyoming, where Shepard had lived, "dedicated to Matthew Shepard's Entry into Hell ... as a solemn Memorial that God Hates Fags and Fag-Enablers." The website also includes a "memorial" to Diana Whipple, a lesbian who was the victim of a fatal dog-mauling in 2001, which purports to count the number of days she "has been in hell."
Rev. Phelps credits his church with "more than 22,000 picketing demonstrations across America and some foreign countries during the past 12 years." On March 4, WBC plans to picket an appearance by former senator and Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards at a "Washington Days" event in Topeka sponsored by the Kansas Democratic Party. A February 9 flier announced: "WBC to picket the grinning, money-grubbing, pettifogger and pandering demagogue loser -- John Edwards ... in religious protest & warning: 'God is not mocked!' God hates fags & fag-enablers! Ergo, God hates Edwards, his family, and the fag-/dyke-dominated Washington Days Democrats." The flier contains a sexually provocative depiction of two men that is captioned "Kerry/Edwards family values."
Phelps' other websites include "God Hates America," which calls President Bush a "bloody butcher" who invaded Iraq -- labeled "Babylon" on the site -- "with his fag army" and declares that "Ronald Reagan is in hell" because he did not use "his bully pulpit" to tell America "the truth about fags and AIDS"; "God Hates Canada"; and "God Hates Sweden."
Phelps, a former lawyer, was disbarred in 1979 for "ethical breaches" [The Denver Post, 10/3/03]. Phelps has 13 children, four of whom have stopped speaking to him, and 53 grandchildren, including Jael [Wausau (Wisconsin) Daily Herald, 3/14/03].
Jael Phelps, who participated in picketing Shepard's funeral [Time magazine, 2/28/05], was recently defeated in her effort to replace Tiffany Muller, the first openly gay member of the Topeka City Council. In a March 1 nonpartisan primary, Phelps garnered only 202 votes. Muller, who came in second with 1,329 votes to lawyer Richard Harmon's 1,935 votes, will advance along with Harmon to the April 5 general election [Associated Press, 3/2/05].
On the same ballot, Rev. Phelps failed in his effort to repeal a city ordinance Muller had successfully pushed through the council that prohibits discrimination against gays in municipal hiring. WBC and other church congregations in Topeka had gathered enough signatures to put the ordinance to a citywide vote [The Topeka Capital-Journal, 3/2/05]. Had the repeal been successful, it would have also barred the city of Topeka from reinstating any such protections for 10 years. Fifty-three percent of voters opposed the repeal [AP, 3/2/05]. WBC issued a statement in response to the March 1 vote, which refers to "filthy fag activists" and "dyke Tiffany." The statement declared victory for the church through its "heroic efforts to gather 6,333 signatures and force a ballot vote" on the issue because it "generated national publicity on WBC and GOD HATES FAGS -- second only to our picketing Matt Shepard's funeral in 1998."