Fred Phelps, the hate-mongering pastor of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, died this week. His family has announced that there will be no funeral service.
Phelps, who was also a disbarred attorney and former civil rights activist, had been focused on fighting against gay rights since 1991 when he and his family members (who comprise most of the membership of the Westboro Baptist Church) began picketing a Topeka park that was supposedly frequented by gay individuals. In 1998 the family gained national attention when they protested at the funeral of slain Wyoming college student Matthew Shepard.
The funeral protests became a staple of the Phelps' family traveling homophobia show. They targeted the funerals of celebrities such as Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, entertainer Michael Jackson, and U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Barry Goldwater. During the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan Fred Phelps and his family became especially reviled when they began protesting at the funerals of American military members.
The Phelps' family homophobic screed has been available for years at www.godhatesfags.com.
Recent reports indicate that 84-year-old Fred Phelps had been excommunicated by the church that he founded, though the secretive organization has not confirmed or denied the story, nor is any explanation available regarding the excommunication.
It was a sad ending for Fred Phelps - a man of flawed faith was denied the spiritual send-off of a funeral. The family may have feared protests and heckling by people who had been offended for years by the Phelps' family disruptions of the funerals of others - and undoubtedly a funeral service for Fred Phelps would have attracted news media and some noisy spectators.
But they may have also feared the opposite - that few would show, and by staying away demonstrate the respect and decency that Fred and his relatives continually denied to the grieving relatives of others.
Matthew Shepard's mother, Judy, issued the following statement:
"Regarding the passing of Fred Phelps, Dennis and I know how solemn these moments are for anyone who loses a loved one. Out of respect for all people and our desire to erase hate, we've decided not to comment further."
Clearly, when compared to Fred Phelps and his hateful spawn, Judy Shepard is the better person.