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Fred Phelps, Founder of Westboro Baptist Church, Dead at 84

Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Rev. Fred Phelps Sr., the founder of a Kansas church known for anti-gay protests and pickets at military funerals, has died. He was 84.

Daughter Margie Phelps says Fred Phelps died shortly after midnight Thursday. She didn’t give the cause of death or the condition that recently put him in hospice care.

Phelps founded the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, though most the small church’s members are part of his extended family.

Their activities inspired a federal law on funeral picketing and laws in more than 40 states. But in a major free-speech ruling in 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court declared the church and its members couldn’t be sued for damages.

Phelps’ church preached that deaths of U.S. military personnel were God’s punishment for the nation’s tolerance of homosexuality.

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