The First Amendment (Amendment I) to the United States Constitution prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances.
Fred Phelps tested my stance on Freedom of Speech and the Right for Peaceful Assembly, but in the end he help cement it.
Phelps was the pastor for the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas. The small church's congregation was made mostly of Phelps own family and relatives. What caught the attention of nation wide press was Phelps Anti-Gay teachings and its picketing of high profile ceremonies, concerts, and most notably military funerals.
Fred Phelps believed that it was his duty to warn the public of God's wrath. He and his followers believed that America's growing acceptance of the "Gay lifestyle" was against God's teachings and that the death of U.S. Soldier were in fact God showing his displeasure for this country.
Due to his demonstrations during Military funeral services a group of individual called the "Patriot Guard Riders" helped create a buffer between the protesters and the friend/family members of the fallen.
In efforts to halt such protests and inflicting undue pain on already grieving family members several laws were put forth.
On May 24, 2006, the United States House and Senate passed the Respect for America's Fallen Heroes Act, which President George W. Bush signed five days later. The act bans protests within 300 feet of national cemeteries – which numbered 122 when the bill was signed – from an hour before a funeral to an hour after it. Violators face up to a $100,000 fine and up to a year in prison.
On August 6, 2012, President Obama signed the Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012 which, among other things, requires a 300-foot and 2-hour buffer zone around military funerals.
In the end, Fred Phelps efforts to promote his Anti-Gay message back fired. His propaganda was deem Hate Speech. His actions helped cement many of the Gay Equality Movements into laws and sharpen American focus on gay rights.
In 2013, Phelps was excommunicated from Westboro Baptist Church.
On March 19, 2014 Fred Phelps passed away.
There will be no funeral.
Many called Phelps "The Most Hated Man in America." In the end I pity him. He spent so much time and energy spreading hate. It makes me wonder where all that anger came from. How he turned the message from the Bible "God Loves You" to "God Hates You" is saddening.
I'm not the most religious person. I don't even know if I believe in a higher Being, but I get the feeling that if God exists, he/she is probably having a discussion with Mr. Phelps.