UK & World News
Anti-Gay Westboro Church Founder Dies
The Reverend Fred Phelps, the founder of the controversial Westboro Baptist Church, has died at the age of 84.
He died shortly after midnight at a hospice on Thursday. The cause of death has not been disclosed.
For years, Rev Phelps served as the fiery leader of the small Kansas-based church, widely condemned for its outspoken homophobic and racist views.
Members of Phelps' congregation became fixtures at the funerals of US soldiers, where they would praise the deaths as God's punishment for the government's tolerance of gays.
In an interview with the AP news agency in 2006, Phelps said: "Can you preach the Bible without preaching the hatred of God?
"The answer is absolutely not. And these preachers that muddle that and use that deliberately, ambiguously to prey on the follies and the fallacious notions of their people, that's a great sin."
The Phelps-led rallies eventually inspired a federal law, as well as similar laws in more than 40 states, that placed limits on protests and picketing at funerals.
The reverend and one of his daughters were also denied entry to Britain for inciting hatred.
In blog post on Thursday, Westboro Baptist Church issued a "commentary" on Phelps' death, saying the "world-wide media has been in a frenzy ... gleefully anticipating the death of Fred Waldron Phelps Sr".
"It has been an unprecedented, hypocritical, vitriolic explosion of words," read the post, which was interlaced with several passages from the Bible.
"So - the death of Fred Phelps' body, a man who preached a plain faithful doctrine to an ever darkening world, is nothing but a vain, empty, hypocritical hope for you."
Phelps' visibility waned in recent years as his daughters Margie and Shirley Phelps-Roper took a more leading role in the church.
His estranged son Nate Phelps said his father had been voted out of the congregation last year "after some sort of falling out".
The church has mostly refused to discuss the matter, but in its blog post on Thursday said there were "no power struggles in the Westboro Baptist Church, and there is no human intercessor - we serve no man, and no hierarchy, only the Lord Jesus Christ".
Westboro Baptist, founded in 1955, has less than 100 members - most of whom are related to Phelps or one of his 13 children by blood or marriage.
The church in Topeka is surrounded by a wooden fence, with members living in adjacent homes also sealed-off from the surrounding neighbourhood by fencing.