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Profile: Shirley Phelps-Roper

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Shirley Phelps-Roper was a participant or observer in the following events:

Signs held by a WBC picketer at the funeral of a fallen soldier.Signs held by a WBC picketer at the funeral of a fallen soldier. [Source: Eagle I Online (.com)]The virulently anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) of Topeka, Kansas (see November 27, 1955 and After) begins what it calls its “picketing ministry,” holding controversial protests to raise awareness of the church and gain media attention. The first protest is held at Gage Park, a Topeka park that the WBC claims is a “meeting place” for homosexuals. The protests continue well into 2001. In 2012, the church will claim to have held over 40,000 protests. WBC members attend these protests bearing signs with such slogans as “God Hates Fags,” “God Hates Jews,” “Thank God for Dead Soldiers,” “Thank God for IEDs” [improvised explosive devices], and “Thank God for AIDS.” Protesters often shout vulgar and obscene epithets at mourners. The church protests many local businesses and individuals in Topeka, including picketing one restaurant every day for three years because the owner knowingly hired a lesbian employee. Jerry Berger, the owner of the restaurant, will later say that church leader Fred Phelps promises to “put you out of business” if he does not fire the employee. When Berger refuses, Phelps and the WBC hound him and the restaurant for three years until he sells the restaurant and the employee quits. Phelps and the WBC find the woman in her new job and protest her there, also. The WBC also continues to protest at the restaurant. At least one member, Shirley Phelps-Roper, often brings American flags to protests and allows her children to trample the flags during those protests, engendering even more media attention. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 4/2001; Southern Poverty Law Center, 4/2001; Southern Poverty Law Center, 2012; Anti-Defamation League, 2012] The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) will later write that it believes the group’s overriding purpose is to garner publicity for itself. “Every mention of WBC in the media is considered a victory by the group,” it will observe. [Anti-Defamation League, 2012]

Entity Tags: Westboro Baptist Church, Anti-Defamation League, Fred Waldron Phelps, Jerry Berger, Shirley Phelps-Roper

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Albert Snyder.Albert Snyder. [Source: Associated Press]The virulently anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC—see November 27, 1955 and After) pickets the funeral of Matthew Snyder, a Marine slain in Iraq (see June 2005 and After). WBC protesters display signs with slogans such as “Thank God for Dead Soldiers,” “You’re Going to Hell,” and “Semper Fi Fags,” while another signs depicts two stick figures engaging in what appears to be sodomy. The church also posts derogatory statements about Snyder and his father, Albert Snyder, on its Web site. In response, Albert Snyder sues the church in a Baltimore court for defamation, invasion of privacy, and emotional distress. [New York Times, 10/26/2007; Southern Poverty Law Center, 2012] Snyder claims his First Amendment rights to the freedom of religious exercise and assembly were violated, and the WBC claims its right to freedom of speech is violated by Snyder’s lawsuit. Snyder names WBC pastor Fred W. Phelps Sr.; church officials Shirley Phelps-Roper and Rebekah A. Phelps-Davis, and other adult members of the church, including two of the elder Phelps’s daughters. The Phelpses and four of the pastor’s grandchildren picketed the funeral. [Topeka Capital-Journal, 10/2/2010] First Amendment expert Ronald K.L. Collins is leery of the case, saying: “The dangerous principle here is runaway liability in a way that would put the First Amendment in serious jeopardy. I dread to think what it would do to political protests in this country if it were allowed the win.” [New York Times, 10/26/2007]

Entity Tags: Ronald K.L. Collins, Matthew Snyder, Fred Waldron Phelps, Albert Snyder, Rebekah A. Phelps-Davis, Shirley Phelps-Roper, Westboro Baptist Church

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

The virulently anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC—see November 27, 1955 and After) announces its intention to picket the funerals of five Amish girls murdered in a Pennsylvania schoolhouse. The organization agrees to abstain from picketing in return for an hour of airtime on talk show host Mike Gallagher’s radio program. WBC leader Shirley Phelps-Roper tells Fox News host Sean Hannity that the Amish girls “did deserve to die.” [Southern Poverty Law Center, 2012] “The Lord your God is ramping up the issues, is smiting this nation,” she says. “What he did with one stroke on that day, sending a pervert in—because America is a nation of perverts—it’s appropriate he sent a pervert in to shoot those children. The Amish people were laid to an open shame because they are a false religion.” Phelps-Roper says that the girls also deserved to die because Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell had committed “blasphemous sins” against the WBC. Rendell had criticized the church for protesting at the funerals of soldiers killed overseas (see June 2005 and After) and has signed legislation restricting protests at funerals. [New York Times, 10/6/2006; Southern Poverty Law Center, 4/2009]

Entity Tags: Sean Hannity, Edward Gene (“Ed”) Rendell, Mike Gallagher, Shirley Phelps-Roper, Westboro Baptist Church

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Shirley Phelps-Roper, a leader of the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC—see November 27, 1955 and After), is arrested during a protest in Bellevue, Nebraska. Today, as is her practice, Phelps-Roper wears an American flag around her waist, which she allows to drag the ground, and allows her son to stand on another American flag. Phelps-Roper is charged with desecrating the flag, negligent child abuse, disturbing the peace, and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Three years later, the flag desecration and contributing to delinquency charges will be dropped, in part because a federal judge will have found the flag desecration statute unconstitutional. Bellevue will also pay Phelps-Roper $17,000 in return for her dropping of a lawsuit against the city. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 2012]

Entity Tags: Westboro Baptist Church, Shirley Phelps-Roper

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

The I-35W bridge collapse, four days after its occurrence.The I-35W bridge collapse, four days after its occurrence. [Source: Cobb Law Group]The anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC—see November 27, 1955 and After) announces its intention to picket the funerals of the people who died in a recent bridge collapse in Minnesota. The Interstate 35W bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota, recently collapsed, killing 13 and injuring 145. The WBC released a statement after the collapse celebrating the deaths of the victims, saying that America, Minnesota, and Minneapolis are all being punished for tolerating homosexuality. Minnesota is the “land of the Sodomite damned,” the church states. WBC leader Shirley Phelps-Roper tells a reporter that the bridge collapse was an act of divine vengeance: “The bridge stood in place by the word of God and it fell by the word of God.… Each of these little events is just a harbinger of the coming destruction of this American experiment. We are delivering the final call of the doomed nation.” According to Phelps-Roper, signs at the protest will read, “God cast down the bridge,” “Thank God for 9/11” (see September 8, 2006), “America is doomed,” “God hates fags,” “God hates fag enablers,” and “God hates Minnesota.” [Minnesota Star-Tribune, 8/2/2007; Minnesota Monitor, 8/7/2007; Think Progress, 8/7/2007; MPR Archive, 2011] The announced protests never take place, and no local supporters turn out for any of the funerals. Local reporter and columnist Paul Schmelzer writes that the WBC is “notorious for no-shows,” and that the press releases are often issued to garner publicity and stir up controversy. Phelps-Roper implies that the protests are called off because the group feels threatened, saying, “When we have to divert a group because there’s something we need to get to more importantly, or we divert the group because we see the location where we’re headed to is so filled with rage that the gloves are off—they’re unabashedly breathing out threatening and slaughter—then we won’t come.” The ‘more important’ activities are protests at funerals of slain soldiers (see June 2005 and After): “[God] said, ‘I’ll drag you into a war you cannot win, and I will dash your children to pieces.’ Now how are we gonna connect that dot, if we don’t get to those dead soldiers’ funerals?… We’ve got all the time in the world. You’re going to be fishing bodies out of there for weeks. There will be more memorial services and there will be more funerals, and along the way we will pick some of them off.” [Twin Cities Daily Planet, 8/10/2007]

Entity Tags: Westboro Baptist Church, Paul Schmelzer, Shirley Phelps-Roper

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Two members of the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC—see November 27, 1955 and After) debate Professor Jose Gabilondo on Amendment 2, a Florida Constitutional referendum, which, if passed, would ban same-sex marriages. The two WBC members are Shirley Phelps-Roper (see October 2-3, 2006) and Margie Phelps, accompanied by Shirley’s daughter, Megan. Phelps-Roper has become the church’s most prominent member now that church founder Fred Phelps, 79, has apparently succumbed to age and declining health, and no longer plays as prominent a role in church affairs. The debate occurs at Gabilondo’s school, Florida International University, where he is the faculty adviser to a gay group at FIU’s Colege of Law. When Gabilondo registered his dismay at the invitation, one alumnus suggested that he suffered from a “lack of testicular fortitude.”
Controversy over Invitation of WBC - Amendment 2 supporters complained that the two WBC members were invited in order to cast Amendment 2 in the worst possible light. Faith2Action leader Janet Folger says of the decision to invite WBC: “That’s the most heinous thing I’ve ever heard. They go to the most radical group. It’s a deliberate attempt to make the pro-marriage people appear to be something they’re not.” Another supporter accuses Gabilondo of trying to set up an unfair confrontation between himself and “some mentally inbred misfits from Kansas.” And a local newspaper columnist called the WBC “a bottom-feeding group,” and said the pro-amendment case should be made by someone else. However, Gabilondo said more mainstream proponents declined to attend the debate, and, moreover, he “think[s] it’s a mistake to distinguish between respectable homophobia and unacceptable homophobia.”
The Debate - On the morning of the debate, the WBC Web site (see 1997) declares that its two members would engage FIU’s “feces eaters” in debate. Two police officers are on hand at the event, and debate organizers warn the audience of some 50 members to refrain from clapping or booing during the discussion, and Gabilondo says privately that he will cut the event short if it becomes rowdy. He tells the WBC representatives that he supports their freedom of speech and appreciates their candor. “He’s a friendly fellow and a likeable fellow,” Margie Phelps later says, but that does not staunch their rhetoric. During the debate, Phelps admonishes the audience to follow the Bible’s teaching of being fruitful and multiplying. “It doesn’t matter how long you anally copulate, you will not bear children,” she says. Children of divorced parents or who have gay parents “would have been better off stillborn,” she adds. While she speaks, her sister displays photographs of drag queens, gay pride parades, death, and devastation. “You embrace fags, which God calls abomination,” Phelps-Roper says. “You teach your children to be whores. Now you sprint to your destruction.” After the discussion, the two sisters pose with Gabilondo for photographs. Phelps-Roper insists that she does not hate homosexuals, saying: “The standard of loving your neighbor is warning them their behavior can send them to hell. It’s only a kindness to tell them… they’re going to hell.” [Orlando Sun-Sentinel, 10/16/2008; Southern Poverty Law Center, 4/2009]

Entity Tags: Shirley Phelps-Roper, Florida International University, Fred Waldron Phelps, Margie Phelps, Westboro Baptist Church, Jose Gabilondo

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

The Westboro Baptist Church (WBC), a small, virulently anti-gay organization in Topeka, Kansas, led by pastor Fred Phelps (see November 27, 1955 and After), announces its intention to travel to the United Kingdom to protest a performance of The Laramie Project, a highly respected play that documents the hate murder of gay student Matthew Shepard and how the incident impacted the Wyoming community (see October 14, 1998). The WBC protested at Shepard’s funeral, and tried unsuccessfully to raise a “monument” to Shepard vilifying him for being gay (see October 3, 2003). In response, the UK bans both Phelps and WBC church leader Shirley Phelps-Roper from entering its borders. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 2012]

Entity Tags: Fred Waldron Phelps, Westboro Baptist Church, Shirley Phelps-Roper, Matthew Shepard

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Members of the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC—see November 27, 1955 and After) ceremonially burn a Koran in Topeka, Kansas, while singing parodies of hymns and patriotic songs. The members also burn an American flag. The action draws relatively little reaction, unlike an earlier Koran-burning announcement from Florida that attracted condemnation from President Obama (see September 10, 2010) and heavy press coverage (see September 9, 2010). Only a few local reporters cover the event, and members of Topeka’s Islamic community deliberately avoid the event. “I’m glad it didn’t get a lot of publicity and it didn’t draw a lot of people to the church,” says Imam Omar Hazim, of the Islamic Center of Topeka. “It seemed people in Topeka ignored what they were doing.” Hazim says he asked local Muslims to stay away from the event during his sermon the day before. “If we had 40 or 50 of us there and they started getting angry, things could get out of control. So I told them to ignore it.” Topeka Mayor Bill Bunten stayed home to watch football, and says the antics of the WBC are drawing less and less national attention. Referring to the Reverend Terry Jones, who orchestrated the Florida Koran-burning, Bunten says: “The fool in Florida one-upped them. They were apparently tagging along on his idea, so the fellow in Florida had stolen the stage, so to speak.” WBC events are “kind of old hat now,” Bunten says. WBC leader Shirley Phelps-Roper explains that the church chose to burn the Koran and the American flag because both are “idols” that people worship. After the burning, she says: “I thought it was awesome. It was another 14 on a scale of 10.” Some counterprotesters demonstrate during the event. One, Shaun Crouse, later says: “There’s already a holy war going on overseas. Provoking it is not what we need to do.… I understand freedom of speech, but this is wrong. Burning the Koran—that’s somebody’s holy book. What would you do if someone burned the Bible, the holy book of Christianity? You’d be pretty upset, too.” Before the event, Phelps-Roper accused Jones, the Florida pastor, of “jumping on the bandwagon” and “serving himself” instead of God. Hazim said that the WBC leadership may be “jealous” of the media attention bestowed upon Jones. [Topeka Capital-Journal, 9/10/2010; Topeka Capital-Journal, 9/11/2010]

Entity Tags: Westboro Baptist Church, Bill Bunten, Omar Hazim, Shaun Crouse, Terry Jones (pastor), Shirley Phelps-Roper

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

The Arizona legislature unanimously passes legislation designed to keep protesters from the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC—see November 27, 1955 and After) from demonstrating at the funeral of a nine-year-old girl murdered during an assassination attempt on Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ). Governor Jan Brewer signs it into law almost immediately thereafter. Brewer says the law “will assure that the victims of Saturday’s tragic shooting in Tucson will be laid to rest in peace with the full dignity and respect that they deserve,” and praises lawmakers for what she calls “a remarkable spirit of unity and togetherness.” The bill, which does not mention the Tucson shooting of Giffords and others, prohibits protests at or near funeral sites. The bill is proposed and passed within 90 minutes. Christina Taylor Green will be laid to rest on January 13; she is one of six people killed in the shooting. Giffords and 13 others were wounded, some, like Giffords, gravely. The WBC said it plans to protest the funeral because “God sent the shooter to deal with idolatrous America.” State Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) says: “This is just horrific that people have to deal with this. We shouldn’t have to do this in time of great pain for our state.” Arizona’s law is modeled on a similar law passed by Ohio and upheld in a federal court of appeals. The Arizona law makes it a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail to picket or conduct other protest activities within 300 feet of a funeral or burial service from one hour before the event to one hour after. WBC official Shirley Phelps-Roper says the church will go ahead with the protest, but at a location some 1,000 feet from the funeral. She says the church will also picket at the funeral of US District Judge John M. Roll, another victim of the shooting. State Senator Paula Aboud (D-AZ) says volunteers are organizing a “human shield” to block protesters from the view of family members. Senate President Russell Pearce (R-AZ) says the bill “is a good compromise that doesn’t trample our God-given rights.” [Associated Press, 1/11/2011] The next day, the WBC announces that its plans to protest the funerals are canceled. Church officials say the protests are canceled in return for an interview on a nationally syndicated radio talk show hosted by Mike Gallagher, a deal similar to one the church made in 2006 (see October 2-3, 2006), and other interviews on regional radio shows. Phelps-Roper says the interviews will give more publicity to the church than the protests would: “It’s always a question of where can you put the words in the most ears.” Gallagher says of his offer: “Believe me, I’m doing this show with a heavy heart. I don’t like the idea of giving them the satisfaction of this, but I believe my radio airwaves are less important than them hurting families.” [Topeka Capital-Journal, 1/12/2011]

Entity Tags: Mike Gallagher, Gabrielle Giffords, Christina Taylor Green, Jan Brewer, Kyrsten Sinema, Russell Pearce, Shirley Phelps-Roper, John M. Roll, Westboro Baptist Church, Paula Aboud

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

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