TOPEKA, Kan. — The Rev. Fred Phelps Sr., who founded a Kansas church widely known for its protests at military funerals and its anti-gay sentiments, is in a care facility, according to a church spokesman.
Phelps, 84, is being cared for in a Shawnee County facility, Westboro Baptist Church spokesman Steve Drain said Sunday. Drain would not identify the facility.
“I can tell you that Fred Phelps is having some health problems,” Drain said. “He’s an old man, and old people get health problems.”
Members of the Westboro church, based in Topeka, frequently protest at the funerals of soldiers. They carry signs with messages such as “Thank God for dead soldiers” and “Thank God for 9/11,” and they say the deaths are God’s punishment for American immorality and tolerance of homosexuality and abortion.
Westboro Baptist, a small group made up mostly of Phelps’s 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 Supreme Court held that the church and its members could not be sued for monetary damages for inflicting pain on grieving families under the First Amendment.
Nate Phelps, an estranged son of Fred Phelps, said in an e-mail to the Topeka Capital-Journal that members of Westboro have voted Fred Phelps out of the church.
Nate Phelps, who broke away from the church 37 years ago, told the newspaper that church members became concerned after the vote that his father might harm himself, and they moved him out of the church, where he and his wife had lived for years. Fred Phelps was moved into a house, where he “basically stopped eating and drinking,” Nate Phelps said.
Drain declined to comment Sunday on whether Fred Phelps had been voted out of the church. Drain said Westboro Baptist Church does not have a designated leader.
“We don’t discuss our internal church dealings with anybody,” Drain told the newspaper.