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Westboro Baptist Church brings anti-gay message to the Pentagon

Members of the Westboro Baptist Church protested outside the Pentagon on Monday, again claiming that the deaths of U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan is God's punishment for America's acceptance of gays and lesbians.

WASHINGTON — Members of the Westboro Baptist Church, known for protesting at military funerals, came to the Pentagon on Monday to spread their anti-gay message.

“We’re here today because the Pentagon is a symbol of this nation’s military, and they have actively chosen to make the so-called gay lifestyle an acceptable way of living,” said Katherine Hockenbarger, one of its members. “This nation fights to shove down the rest of this world’s throat the fact that they say it’s OK to be gay. And it’s not OK to be gay. Same-sex marriage is a nation-dooming event. And this nation will soon be destroyed. So we’re here at the Pentagon where the military is because we’ve got to tell you about it. We’ve got a job to warn you.”

Based in Topeka, Kan., the church identifies itself on its website — GodHatesFags.com — as “an Old School (or, Primitive) Baptist Church.” It holds demonstrations throughout the country protesting the gay-rights movement, and what it describes as “the homosexual lifestyle of soul-damning, nation-destroying filth.”

The group claims to have conducted more than 52,000 demonstrations since 1991, including at more than 400 military funerals for servicemembers who died in Iraq and Afghanistan. WBC believes their deaths are the result of divine wrath for Americans’ acceptance of gay people. The church describes fallen U.S. servicemembers as people “whom God has killed in Iraq/Afghanistan in righteous judgment against an evil nation.”

Hockenbarger keyed on the DOD’s annual Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month Ceremony. The most recent one took place last week at the Pentagon, and Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work delivered the keynote speech.

“Our nation’s military has a fag festival every single year,” she said with disgust.

One of WBC’s most notorious protests occurred in 2006, when members appeared outside the Westminster, Md., funeral for Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, who was killed in Anbar province, Iraq. They held banners that read: “Thank God for dead soldiers,” “Thank God for IEDs” and “God hates fags.”

Snyder was not believed to be gay, and WBC did not claim that he was. Snyder’s father sued the group for harassment and inflicting emotional distress. But the U.S. Supreme Court, in an 8-1 ruling, declared that WBC’s actions were protected as free speech under the Constitution.

WBC is a small group, with a congregation largely made up of the extended family of its founder, Fred Phelps, who died in March. Hockenbarger, 33, who lives in Topeka, said there are about 50 members of the church. Hockenbarger said she is not related to Phelps.

There were about a dozen protesters in front of the Pentagon on Monday, including teens and children.

harper.jon@stripes.com
Twitter: @JHarperStripes

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