WASHINGTON (RNS) The 7-year-old boy in the red hat and hooded sweatshirt seemed like any other child playing in the street, except for the sign Luke Phelps-Roper was carrying: “God Hates Fags.”
For more than a decade, Westboro Baptist Church has raised a ruckus with that message, posting itself outside government buildings, college campuses and even the funerals of American soldiers. But in recent months, the Topeka, Kan.-based church has been moving toward other targets, predominantly in the American Jewish community.
Westboro Baptist members came to Washington this week (Nov. 2-9) to protest speeches by President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Jewish Federations of North America conference. Members of the Phelps family have been to other, less high-profile sites as well, targeting synagogues, Jewish community centers and Hillels on college campuses.
The change in focus has caught Jewish leaders by surprise. While the group has always had anti-Semitic tendencies, it had largely stayed away from Jewish sites until this year.
As the young Phelps paced in front of a Washington hotel Monday (Nov. 2), his aunt, Margie, balanced several signs targeting Jews, Israel and the Obama administration. One read “Rabbis Rape Kids,” another said “God Hates Jews.” Margie Phelps’ T-shirt read “Jews Killed Jesus.” She argued with men and women passing by, warning them that God will soon send the Jews to hell.
“I don’t care what you claim, chosen wise,” she said. “Obedience is the standard.”