TOPEKA, Kan. — According to several media sources, Fred Phelps, founder of Topeka-based Westboro Baptist Church, passed away Wednesday night.
WIBW-TV in Topeka said one of his sons confirmed Phelps died before midnight.
Phelps Sr., whose church is widely known for its anti-gay sentiments and protests at military funerals, was being cared for in a Shawnee County facility, according to Westboro Baptist Church spokesman Steve Drain.
Members of the church frequently protest at funerals of soldiers with signs containing messages like “Thank God for dead soldiers” and “Thank God for 9/11,” claiming the deaths are God’s punishment for American immorality and tolerance of homosexuality and abortion.
Westboro Baptist, a small church composed mostly of Phelps’ extended family, inspired a federal law and laws in numerous states limiting picketing at funerals. But in a major free-speech ruling in 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the church and its members couldn’t be sued for monetary damages for inflicting pain on grieving families.