Fred Phelps: Former Civil Rights Champion Turned Hatemonger

Julie Marsh
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Flickr: Photo by dbking
There's been much recent coverage of the Westboro Baptist Church and its leader, Reverend Fred Phelps. Most notably, his church has staged protests at military funerals, leading to a lawsuit that will be heard before the US Supreme Court this fall.

The Anti-Defamation League website provides a comprehensive overview of Westboro Baptist Church, its activities, and its statements. The church is known primarily for being anti-Semitic and homophobic, but its hatred extends to blacks, Christians, and America as a whole. Fred Phelps and his daughter Shirley Phelps-Roper are dedicated to destroying anyone who "subvert[s] what they believe is God’s law."

Who'd have ever guessed that Fred Phelps was a former civil rights lawyer?

A CNN article describes his civil rights legal work: "Phelps would take cases in the 1960s that other lawyers, black and white, wouldn't touch ... [he] was so successful that he became the first lawyer blacks would call when they thought they were being discriminated against."

Meanwhile, Joe Douglas Jr. (the first minority fire department chief in Topeka) and the Reverend Ben Scott (leader of the NAACP in Topeka) expressed amazement that the man who so vigorously defended the rights of blacks could be the same man behind the hatred espoused by the Westboro Baptist Church. Douglas states: "I see him out there, and I hear the venom that comes out of his mouth. If you had asked me in the '60s if he would do this, I would have said never."

Phelps' estranged son Nate maintains that his father was racist even though he waged legal battles against discrimination. "He says his father didn't believe blacks were equal to whites, and often insulted blacks out of earshot." His daughter, Phelps-Roper, brushes aside these assertions, citing Nate's fall from grace. But the ADL website lists multiple examples of the church's racism, alongside its other hate speech.

His past legal work aside, regardless of its positive results, Phelps harbors virulent hate and irrational beliefs. His church and its members spread their message and rejoice in the publicity it receives.

Sadly, I realize that by writing about them, I'm feeding the beast.

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