Recovering from Religion
Nate Phelps, son of the pastor of Westboro Baptist Church, is a self-described atheist.
It may come as no surprise that members of Westboro Baptist Church, an extreme Calvinist sect notorious for its fire-and-brimstone picketing, are planning to protest at the upcoming Reason Rally — a national gathering of atheists. But at this event, they will also be picketing one of their own, rally organizers said.
In the speaking lineup at the March 24 rally in Washington is Nate Phelps, one of 13 children of Westboro Pastor Fred Phelps. The younger Phelps, who split from the family when he was 18, is a self-described atheist who advocates for gay rights and on behalf of abused children. He charges that his father abused his children in the name of God and uses his church as a vehicle for his rage.
Nate Phelps, 54, lives in Calgary, Canada where he works for the Center for Inquiry, and only in 2010 began to speak out about his family and his beliefs, according to a biography on his web site. He is writing a book on his upbringing and is a board member for the nonprofit organization "Recovering from Religion," which supports people who leave religion despite the pressures of family and culture.
At the rally, Phelps will join a lineup of celebrities in the secular orbit — author Richard Dawkins, Discovery Channel "Mythbusters" host Adam Savage, comedian Eddie Izzard, the band Bad Religion and others.
"Nate Phelps brings a powerful voice and story to the rally," said Reason Rally organizer David Silverman, who is also president of American Atheists. "He shows us all that if you can come out as an atheist in that family, it's possible anywhere."
One of the sponsors of the Reason Rally, the National Atheist Party, sent a letter inviting Pastor Phelps to the rally, according to organizers.
The Scranton Atheism Examiner reported that the letter was answered by Megan Phelps-Roper, one of the pastor's daughter's, on Twitter:
"The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God” Ps14:1 Here's lookin' at you, @ReasonRally!Your [unwarranted] pride is your destruction. Dear @ReasonRally: How gracious of you! We accept your invitation & will picket your parade of fools 3/24. Love,WBC."
The Phelps' Westboro Church based in Topeka, Kansas is most famous for picketing the funerals of fallen U.S. soldiers with signs declaring "God Hates Fags" and "Thank God for Dead Soldiers."
Tim Sharp / Reuters file
A member of the Westboro Baptist Church protests before the start of the TicketCity Bowl football game in Dallas, Texas January 2, 2012. Penn State was playing Houston in the game.
The Westboro Baptist Church has picketed hundreds of other events and organizations — including other churches that take positions sympathetic to homosexuality, institutions that pay tribute to Jews and to Holocaust victims, and the funerals of famous figures, such as Michael Jackson. Westboro has likened the Roman Catholic Church and Islam to devil worship.
Courts have dismissed lawsuits against the Westboro clan, ruling that their protests are protected free speech.
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