Nearly 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.
The petition, which was created on December 14, had logged 247,170 signatures by Wednesday morning – making it the largest online White House petition in history.
Petitions need 25,000 signatures to be reviewed by the administration.
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.
The White House petition was formed after church spokesperson Shirey 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.
Westboro’s Margie Phelps said in a video-taped interview that God sent the 20-year-old Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook shooter, to kill people in Connecticut because the state legalized same-sex 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.’
‘Many more shooters, many more dead are coming,’ she said.
The Southern Poverty Law Center calls the Westboro Baptist Church ‘arguably the most obnoxious and rabid hate group in America.’ The Anti-Defamation League calls it ‘a small virulently homophobic, anti-Semitic hate group.’
The White House petition was formed after church spokesperson Shirey Phelps-Roper tweeted plans to protest a vigil
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.
President Obama signed legislation earlier this year, however, requiring protests to be held at least 300 feet from military funerals.
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.
‘The Westboro Baptist Church is better-known for homophobic displays, suing people and picketing funerals than for providing Christian care to a community,’ according to the petition. ‘Due to their harassment and politicking, their IRS tax-exempt status should be immediately investigated.’
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.