White House Responds To Petitions, Says It Cannot Take Action Against The Westboro Baptist Church

We the People Petition

After being sent five petitions on its "We The People" site, the White House issued a statement on July 1st condemning actions by the Westboro Baptist Church, but also stating that it cannot list the organization as a "hate group" or take actions against the group's tax exempt status. 

The statement was released in response to a "We The People" petition that asked the White House to legally recognize the Westboro Baptist Church as a hate group. Despite the WBC's extensive history of fiercely antigay statements and controversial protests, the Obama administration had conceded that its hands are tied in this situation.

"To the extent that these petitions request a particular law enforcement or adjudicatory action, we cannot issue a comment. In addition, as a matter of practice, the federal government doesn't maintain a list of hate groups. That's the prerogative of private organizations like the Anti-Defamation League and Southern Poverty Law Center."

Westboro Baptist ChurchAccording to the Washington Post, all "We the People" petitions receiving more than 100,000 signatures within 30 days automatically receive a response. Two recent petitions have recently met said goal: one asking to label the WBC as a hate group and another asking for the organization to have their tax-exempt status revoked. WaPo has noted that these petitions are two of the five that were created after the group announced that it would picket the funerals of the shooting victims in Newtown, CT. 

In its response, the White House did make a point to express its disapproval of the WBC's practices, as well as prior action that it has taken against the hate group:

"We agree that practices such as protesting at the funerals of men and women who died in service to this country and preventing their families from mourning peacefully are reprehensible– a point that President Obama has made for years. That's why he signed a law to ensure that protesters keep an appropriate distance at military funerals."

Unfortunately, many of the group's unsavory practices are still protected by the First Amendment, a fact that was reaffirmed in 2011 by an 8-1 decision by the Supreme Court. Most recently, the so-called church has announced that it will be picketing a One Direction concert taking place in Kansas City, MO, on July 19.


  1. kdknyc says

    The only way to deal with these people is to have a total media blackout. Attention is their oxygen. If they were deprived of it, they’d go away. But sadly they make “good copy”, so they will continue to thrive.

  2. Keith says

    “unfortunately many of the group’s tactics are protected by the first amendment…”

    WBC is disgusting and infuriating, but we should all be glad that they have the right to do what they do. if we outlawed the actions of those we disagree with, how soon do you think it would be before laws were passed to outlaw our actions? see article banning rainbow flags in Louisiana…

  3. DW says

    Frankly I think the WBC does us a lot of good. It exposes the reality of “Christian” homophobia, unlike the soft-pedaled “love the sinner, hate the sin” variety.

    In any case, what did people really expect the President to do? I suppose the NSA could monitor their phone calls (but it’s already doing that to all of us).

  4. stephen says

    Where do they get their funding? That could be a question for a congressional inquiry. They seem to have enuf money to travel all over the place at the drop of a hat.

  5. Cal says

    They get their funding from suing people from what I understand. The head honchos there are all attorneys and they apparently are good at their jobs. I know. Whodathunkit?

  6. Matt says

    “unfortunately” their tactics are protected by the First Amendment? I disagree. It is FORTUNATE that their actions are protected by the First Amendment. Without it, where would we be? It is a precious right, for all of us. The solution to ugly speech is more speech, not to suppress speech.

  7. dana says

    “unfortunately” their actions are protected?? WTF? Because we don’t like their speech it should be banned? It’s “unfortunate” that the government doesn’t have the right to ban ideas? Russia has that power and it just did that to pro-gay groups. How did we all like that? If our government had the constitutional right to ban uncomfortable or unpopular speech, many of the ideas towleroad supports would’ve been banned decades ago when bigots held power.

  8. dana says

    additionally…towleroad is a notable, credible, and recognizable organization affiliated with the LGBT movement. For years, groups like the FRC and Focus on the Family have been telling their members that gay people want to take away their rights, that we don’t want them to have the ability to speak against gays, that we would make hate speech against gays a crime (see their arguments against marriage)..and now towleroad says it’s “unfortunate” that a church “still” has the right to speak against gay people. Way to appear to advocate exactly what they’ve been warning their members about.

  9. says

    I agree that it’s fortunate rather than unfortunate that their free speech rights are protected; if the most despicable are protected, it’s a good sign. The 2011 SCOTUS decision was the right one.

    And, really, their nasty speech is respected by maybe 2 people and condemned by many. Virtually no one wants to be associated with their nuttiness, so they end up helping our side. Ignoring the kooks is the way to go.

  10. *****overtx says

    What is “unfortunate” about this article is the fact that so many American citizens have no idea how the principle of “free speech” functions in our society. Well, so much for an informed and/or educated population.

  11. andrew says

    The utterly disgusting behavior of the members of the WBC actually helps move the progressive agenda forward. Americans see what hate looks like and they don’t like it.

  12. says

    “In addition, as a matter of practice, the federal government doesn’t maintain a list of hate groups. That’s the prerogative of private organizations like the Anti-Defamation League and Southern Poverty Law Center.”

    The federal government does not maintain a list of “hate groups” because there is no legal definition for the term.

    The ADL, and especially the SPLC, maintain lists of so-called “hate groups” for fundraising purposes, based solely on their own subjective definitions.

    The legend on the SPLC’s incredibly lucrative “Hate Map” fundraising tool makes two important disclosures:

    “Listing here does not imply a group advocates or engages in violence or other criminal activity.”

    This is entirely true. These groups, no matter how reprehensible most people find their rhetoric, are not breaking any laws and are practicing constitutionally protected free speech, just as the White House indicates.

    You can’t discriminate a group because you don’t like what they say or do.

    That being said, the vigilantes at the SPLC then make the horrendous claim that:

    “Hate group activities can include criminal acts, marches, rallies, speeches, meetings, leafleting or publishing.”

    Really? An alleged “civil rights organization” is deliberately conflating six of the most fundamental First Amendment CIVIL RIGHTS with “criminal acts” and “hate group activities”?

    Think about that next time you attend a speech, a march or rally for any cause. Better yet, think about it next time you get out your donor checkbook. Your donor dollars will do far more good closer to home and won’t land you on a “hate map.”


    Some “prerogative.”

  13. Anonymous says

    I think the real question here is, why are they receiving tax-exempt status from the government? They aren’t a charity, they aren’t even a real church. If Westboro can have under 20 members and waste their time harassing people, then claim they are a church, does that mean I can gather five of my friends to harass them, claim I’m a church and receive tax-exempt status as well?

    Sure, people have the right to free speech. People also have the right to pay taxes like everyone else and not receive special treatment for picketing the funerals of 9-year-old girls.

    If the government really wanted to do something about them, it would. (See also: IRS scandal.) It seems to be selective in taxing GOP organizations, but not Westboro, which makes a whole lot of sense.

  14. anon says

    It’s heartwarming to see that the administration has such little regard for the first amendment. Think of all the wondrous things they could achieve if it were repealed!

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