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Issue Date:  November 16, 2007

$10.9 million verdict won't stop Phelps' anti-gay crusade

It’s going to take more than a $10.9 million jury award to stop Pastor Fred Phelps and his Kansas church from picketing military funerals with anti-gay signs.

In fact, his daughter said Nov. 1 the award will only push them forward.

“We are the No. 1 story on Google around the world,” said Shirley Phelps-Roper, daughter of the Westboro Baptist Church’s pastor. “You can’t buy that kind of advertising, even with $10.9 million.”

The Topeka, Kan., church was sued by Albert Snyder, whose son was killed in Iraq, after members picketed at his son’s funeral in March 2006. On Oct. 31, a federal jury awarded Snyder $10.9 million in damages.

Members of Phelps’ church, who believe God is punishing the United States for its acceptance of homosexuality with the military deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, routinely picket military funerals. They hold signs with slogans like “Thank God for dead soldiers” and “God hates fags.”

Phelps-Roper, just returned from Baltimore where the case was decided, expressed joy at the “huge door of utterance” that has been opened to her church’s cause.

“We have told this nation faithfully that there is a God ... who expects obedience, and if you won’t obey you get the curses,” Phelps-Roper said.

Snyder told The New York Times that he was not motivated by money. He filed the suit, he said, because “I want to shut this church down, if you can call it a church. I call it a cult or a hate group. I sat in that courtroom for a week and a half and never once heard them say a good thing about God.”

The Rev. Mel White, president of Soulforce, a gay rights organization based in Lynchburg, Va., said his organization receives frequent visits from the picketers, but their presence doesn’t discourage him.

White predicted that Phelps and his church will try to capitalize on the jury’s verdict, making waves in the national media and turning their situation into “a public relations coup.”

“There’s no chance of slowing him down,” White said.

And it seems Westboro Baptist isn’t deterred one bit. “It says plainly in the scripture, ‘No going back,’ ” Phelps-Roper said. “We’re not going to run.”

-- Religion News Service

National Catholic Reporter, November 16, 2007

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