The controversial Westboro Baptist Church has asked the public not to picket the funeral of its founder, Pastor Fred Phelps, who died this week at 84, and "have a little decency and respect" for his family and friends.
In a statement posted on its website, the Topeka, Kan.-based church – home to America’s most hated family – claimed members of the public have threatened to protest Phelps’ funeral just as the church protested the funerals of others.
“This is a very difficult time for us,” the statement reads, “so we ask that the public have a little decency and respect by allowing us to mourn a great man who served God and tried to protect America from the threat of fags and perverts (i.e. gays and U.S. soldiers).”
The outspoken Pastor Fred Phelps, a former civil rights attorney, headed the Westboro Baptist Church since 1955, breaking away from mainstream Baptist churches to espouse his bigoted interpretations of the Bible.
The church has attracted widespread controversy for espousing homophobic rhetoric and for protesting at the funerals of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Church members typically carry inflammatory signs and claim the deaths are God’s punishment for the United States’ tolerance of homosexuality.
The 40-member church, primarily consisting of Phelps' family members, has also protested the funerals of celebrities, public officials and murder victims, including victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings, Apple founder Steve Jobs and murdered gay student Matthew Shepard.
Shirley Phelps-Roper, a church spokeswoman and Phelps’ daughter, said she was concerned people outside the church would try to picket the funeral service.
“It would be in extremely poor taste if someone were to protest my father’s funeral just because they disagreed with him,” she said. “Everyone is entitled to respect in death. What monster would go out of their way to upset my family when we’re grieving?”
Phelps-Roper dismissed the claim that the church’s unusual request is hypocritical, given the members have picketed the funerals of U.S. soldiers and murder victims.