White House condemns Westboro protests in petition response

The White House on Wednesday responded to online petitions over the Westboro Baptist Church, which conducts anti-gay protests at military funerals, declining to designate the organization a “hate group” but calling their activities “reprehensible.”

Two petitions on the We the People website, one which called for investigating the controversial church’s tax-exempt status and another asking the Obama administration to label the church a hate group, both passed the 100,000 threshold to get an official response.

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The hate group petition had 367,180 signatures as of Wednesday afternoon.

"To the extent that these petitions request a particular law enforcement or adjudicatory action, we cannot issue a comment," the White House's statement said. "In addition, as a matter of practice, the federal government doesn't maintain a list of hate groups."

The White House statement did criticize the church.

"That all said, 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," the statement continued. "That's why he signed a law to ensure that protesters keep an appropriate distance at military funerals."

The statement concluded with an animated image noting that the majority of signers of the petitions came from areas closely associated with the church.

"While support for these petitions came from all over the country, it was densely clustered in two places that have unique insight into the actions of the Westboro Baptist Church — Kansas, the state the church calls home, and Newtown, Connecticut, where the church threatened to picket the funerals of those killed at Sandy Hook Elementary," the statement said.

The statement on the Westboro Church comes roughly a week after the Supreme Court delivered a victory to gay rights advocates, striking down a key provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which denied many benefits to same-sex couples.

In a separate case, the Supreme Court refused to rule on California’s Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage, effectively allowing a lower court ruling upholding the measure to stand.

In 2011 the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that Westboro Baptist Church’s protests at military funerals were protected under the First Amendment.