Users of the White House’s “We the People” digital petition platform have flooded the site in support of an effort to officially designate the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church as a hate group.
At the moment more than 250,000 people have signed a White House petition that would label Westboro Baptist Church as a hate group after its members announced plans to picket a vigil for children killed in the Newtown, Connecticut school massacre.
This plan made them a prime target of hacktivist group Anonymous and eventually drew a well-attended counter-protest to block the church’s followers from disrupting the services.
The most popular petition was submitted on Dec. 14, the same day as the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Now it is the largest online White House petition in history. Petitions need 25,000 signatures to be reviewed by the administration.
The hacking group known as ‘Anonymous’ has started separate White House petition to strip Westboro Baptist Church of its tax-exempt status. The petition had garnered more than 63,000 signatures as of Wednesday morning.
Anonymous also claims that it hacked Westboro’s website and released personal information about church members including names, street addresses, phone numbers and email addresses.
The Westboro group has been highly controversial in recent years, and has been rebuked for its methods by most mainstream Christian groups.
Westboro Baptist Church has made national news in the past for its strong views against homosexuality. The religious group blames most tragedies – from the death of American soldiers to the recent massacre of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School – on what they call a ‘pro-gay’ agenda in the U.S.
Westboro member Margie Phelps has commented in an interview that the group believes God sent 20 year old shooter, Adam Lanza, to shoot and kill the 20 children and six adults in Connecticut because the state had legalized gay marriage.
“Connecticut was one of the first states to come out with same-sex marriage,’ Phelps said as she sat beside a blood-red-stained sign that read: ‘God sent the shooter.”
The recent petition was sparked when one member from the Westboro group, Shirley Phelps-Roper, tweeted plans to protest a vigil for the Sandy Hook victims to “sing praise to God for the glory of his work in executing his judgement.”
The announcement shocked hundreds of thousands who heard about it across the nation, and has sparked people to sign the petition to officially label Westboro a “hate group.”
Despite widespread opposition against the group, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the church in 2011, saying that it’s right to picket funerals was protected under the First Amendment, writes the Daily Mail.
According to the Huff Post, official action has been taken against Westboro’s most frequently utlized weapon -its highly inflammatory, anti-gay displays at military funerals — though not directly against the church itself.
In August, Obama signed the Honoring America’s Veterans Act, which declared that protests must be held at least 300 feet from military funerals and were prohibited two hours before or after a service.