>> Westboro Baptist church founder Fred Phelps dies aged 84
Le pasteur d’un groupuscule religieux radical américain, connu pour ses diatribes homophobes lors de funérailles de soldats, est mort jeudi à 84 ans, a annoncé son fils au site Kansas First News.
Fred Phelps était le fondateur de la très controversée église baptiste de Westboro, dans le Kansas, un État rural du centre des États-Unis.
Le groupuscule, dont la plupart des membres sont des enfants de Fred Phelps, s’est illustré par des manifestations bruyantes organisées lors de funérailles de soldats américains, à travers des pancartes et des slogans violemment homophobes, comme «Merci mon Dieu pour les soldats morts!» ou «Soldats pédés!».
L’église de Westboro avait cependant remporté une victoire devant la Cour suprême américaine en 2011. Les juges de la plus haute instance judiciaire du pays avaient en effet estimé qu’elle exerçait son droit à la liberté d’expression, «même si elle peut blesser», en conspuant des militaires tués en Irak et en Afghanistan.
D’après le Southern Poverty Law Center, un organisme spécialisé dans la surveillance des groupes extrémistes, l’église de Westboro est «sans doute le plus nauséabond et le plus odieux des groupuscules américains qui propagent la haine».
>> Fred Phelps, the patriarch of the Westboro Baptist church who was notorious for his relentless campaign against America’s acceptance of homosexuality, has died at 84.
Steve Drain, an elder at the church, told the Guardian: “Fred Phelps died at about 11.15pm on Wednesday.” Phelps’s daughter Shirley told the Topeka Capital-Journal that her father died at a hospice in Topeka, Kansas, following a period of illness.
In a defiant post on its official blog, the church – from which Phelps had reportedly been excommunicated in recent years – declared that its controversial work would go on.
“God forbid, if every little soul at the Westboro Baptist Church were to die at this instant, or to turn from serving the true and living God, it would not change one thing about the judgments of God that await this deeply corrupted nation and world,” it said.
Phelps, who according to the church had 13 children, 54 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren, founded Westboro in 1955 but earned notoriety in the 1990s when he began leading followers on noisy protests against gay people around the US.
An era of intense national media coverage was kickstarted by their picketing the 1998 funeral of Matthew Shepard, a gay 21-year-old student from Wyoming, who was tortured and killed in what was said to be a hate crime. “Matt In Hell,” said one of Phelps’s signs.
After several years spent picketing more memorial services, including those of people who had died of Aids, Phelps and his church provoked even more widespread anger after the terrorist attacks of September 11, which Phelps described as a “glorious sight”.
They began picketing funerals of US troops killed in Iraq or Afghanistan, who they called victims of divine retribution for tolerance of homosexuality. “The Lord is punishing this evil nation for abandoning all moral imperatives that are worth a dime,” Phelps said in 2005.