Many of the group's targets seem chosen at random: the church picketed a concert by young Canadian pop star Justin Bieber because he was not using his fame to promote God.
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Shirley Phelps-Roper, who is a frequent protester and one of Fred Phelps' children, will sometimes wear American flags hanging from her pants while protesting, so that they scrape against the ground as she walks. She has allowed her children to step on an American flag during protests. The WBC uses tactics like these to win media attention and spread its message.
Children in the Phelps family are raised in the church's beliefs, and their upbringing offers them few opportunities to integrate into mainstream society.
It is common to see young children from the Phelps family at WBC pickets, often holding the group's hateful signs. These children casually use the words "fag" and "dyke" in interviews, and the older children report having no close friends at school. The Phelps family raises its children to hold hateful and upsetting views, and to believe that all people not in WBC will go to hell.
The tenets of WBC are so strict that no other churches are taken to be legitimate. The children quickly grow alienated in school and in society, leading them to build relationships almost exclusively within the family. This helps to explain why nine of Fred Phelps' 13 children have remained members of the church. Fred Phelps and his small congregation provide WBC's funding; the group neither solicits nor accepts outside donations. In addition to this income, the church makes money by winning or settling civil lawsuits involving the church.
During the s, the group sued Topeka multiple times for failing to provide sufficient protection during its protests.
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Because the Phelps family represents WBC in court, they can put the fees they win towards supporting the church. As of , several WBC members worked for the state , providing an additional income stream.
Margie Phelps was even awarded "Kansas Correctional Association Employee of the Quarter" in late — this despite her arrest at a protest at a dedication ceremony for the Brown v. Board of Education Historical Site in Topeka. Abigail Phelps, another Westboro activist, worked in the staff development office for Kansas' Juvenile Justice Authority. In February , Prison Legal News , which monitors human-rights abuses within America's prison system, filed an ethics complaint with Kansas legal officials against Shirley Phelps-Roper.
The complaint alleged that Phelps violated legal ethical canons because of the extreme vitriol she directed toward gays and lesbians on a radio show. The state's Office of the Disciplinary Administrator declined to pursue it, citing the First Amendment.
On Oct. They even claimed that God had chosen to use improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, to kill American soldiers because of an August attack on the WBC compound with a small explosive device.
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On March 8, , the U. Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal. Snyder described the Fourth Circuit's order as "a slap in the face. The WBC announced plans to picket their funerals, but agreed to abstain in exchange for one hour of airtime on talk-show host Mike Gallagher's radio program.
Shirley had allowed her son to stand on an American flag, while she wore a flag around her waist, allowing it to drag along the ground as she walked. Shirley was charged under a Nebraska flag desecration law.
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She was also charged with negligent child abuse, disturbing the peace, and contributing to the delinquency of a minor because she allowed her son to violate the flag law. On July 27, , the city of Bellevue dropped the charges of flag desecration and contributing to the delinquency of a child, due to a federal judge declaring the flag desecration law unconstitutional. However, the city did not drop the charges of disturbing the peace and negligent child abuse. WBC members have been banned from other countries because of their hateful views. This was the case for Hamilton Cain.
Twenty years earlier, as a child in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Hamilton was a Baptist boy prodigy. He came to the Lord at the age of seven, proceeded to be a Bible Drill champion, rattling off obscure passages from memory, then won the coveted post of Youth Week Pastor. Church elders pronounced him well on his way to running the Southern Baptist Convention one day.
But there were cracks in the protective armor of his religious beliefs; just below the surface lay hypocrisy, violence, and fear. Hamilton eventually left the South and, thinking he would never look back, threw himself into a new life in New York City, immersed in all the cultural treasures and liberal debates he was denied in his youth.
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Hamilton and his wife, Ellen, noticed that something was wrong with their infant son, Owen, when he failed to achieve his developmental milestones. Doctors said that his muscle tone was extremely low, and the worst came when he caught a common cold and his right lung collapsed. Owen went through a battery of doctors, tests, and specialists, but no one could figure out what was wrong. Frightened and at a loss for how to cope, Hamilton found himself in church one Sunday morning, calmed by the familiar traditions yet still conflicted by his feelings toward his faith and the church of his boyhood.
The chapters cut back and forth in time.
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