Phelps' estranged son tells of abuse, intimidation

The Associated Press/April 25, 2010

Topeka - The estranged son of a controversial Kansas pastor encouraged people to feel sympathy for members of his father's church, "at least for the young children stuck in that situation."

Nate Phelps, 51, spoke in Topeka over the weekend, marking his first trip in 20 years to the city where his father, Fred Phelps, runs Westboro Baptist Church.

He alleged that he endured fear, intimidation and abuse before leaving the family and church on his 18th birthday.

He said that while society is quick to take steps to protect children, it seems "curiously blind" when religious beliefs jeopardize a child's safety. He also predicted that the group would die out eventually.

None of its members picketed the speech.

Westboro Baptist members, many of them Fred Phelps' children and grandchildren, have conducted anti-homosexual pickets in Topeka and other cities since 1991. They have been protesting at soldiers' funerals in recent years, saying military deaths were the work of a wrathful God who punishes the United States for tolerating homosexuality.

The Supreme Court will hear one such case this fall in which a soldier's family sued the church to halt the demonstrations. A lower court ordered the soldier's family to pay the church's court costs - a $16,500 judgment that the congregation said it would use for more protests.

The court said it would consider whether the protesters' actions were protected by the First Amendment.

Nate Phelps, who describes himself as an atheist, said he believed his father's group would eventually become a footnote in Topeka history. But he encouraged people to do whatever they could to ensure that Westboro Baptist's actions "fall on barren soil and are cast away like dust in the wind."

In an interview with the Topeka Capital-Journal last week, Nate Phelps described his father as "combative, angry, hateful, destructive." He also said he hadn't talked much about his origins.

But in 2008, the media began calling him for comment.

"That forced me to think about whether I have an obligation to speak out," he said. "I have a unique voice and maybe some positive things could come out of that."

He also said he is writing a book and working with different organizations "for changes in laws to make it more difficult for people to abuse their children based on religion."

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.