Founder of Westboro Baptist Church dies

Thursday 20 March 2014 22.13
The Westboro Baptist Church has held protests at the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan
The Westboro Baptist Church has held protests at the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan

A controversial pastor, whose Kansas church members held protests at military funerals with signs declaring "Thank God for dead soldiers", has died.

Reverend Fred Phelps Sr, who founded the Westboro Baptist Church, was 84.

It is "arguably the most obnoxious and rabid hate group in America," according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups.

The church consists largely of the families of nine of Mr Phelps's 13 children and a small number of other families and residents of the largely rural, Midwestern US state of Kansas.

It funds its travels in part by suing those who try to block the protests for violating their right to free speech. Several of Mr Phelps's children are lawyers.

The church won a major legal victory in 2011 when the Supreme Court ruled it could not be sued for inflicting pain on grieving families.

It first gained national notoriety by protesting at the funeral of gay student Matthew Shepard, whose brutal 1998 murder in Laramie, Wyoming, sparked a nationwide debate about homophobia.

Church members began protesting at the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2005.