Rev. Fred Phelps Sr., the Westboro Baptist Church founder who was a fierce critic of the gay rights movement, died Thursday, his son Tim Phelps told Kansas First News. He was 84.
A spokesman for the Kansas-based church could not immediately be reached for comment.
Phelps and the independent Baptist Church he launched were frequently involved with protests of political events, gay pride rallies and the funerals of celebrities, military figures and any other high-profile people he identified with gay, lesbian and transgender causes. His targets included film critic Roger Ebert, actor Heath Ledger, Princess Diana and President Ronald Reagan.
The group’s slogan, “God hates fags,” was incorporated into its website, social media pages and the signs that Phelps’ followers carried. His belief that the Bible condemned homosexuality, led him to make a series of controversial statements such as when he labeled Matthew Shepard, a 21-year old Wyoming man beaten to death in 1998 because he was gay, “that little fag.”
Phelps was a relentless publicity seeker; one whose quest for the limelight prompted him to seek public office four times in failed races for governor and U.S. Senator.
He also inspired a landmark Supreme Court decision in 2011 related to First Amendment, when the court ruled that his organization’s right to free speech and to gather publicly prevented it from being sued by the families of the people whose funerals the Westboro Church protested.