The last few years of Elizabeth Edwards’ life were filled with the scandal and controversy brought on by her husband’s affair with his videographer while on the presidential campaign trail. Battling cancer, she had not only appeared at John Edwards’ side nearly throughout the campaign, but she had taken up the cause against cancer even before hers went into remission.
But Tuesday saw Elizabeth lose her long battle with cancer. At her funeral on Saturday, those who haven’t been reminded of the scandals that played a big part of her life in the waning months will get a more than direct reminder of it from the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, because, according to CNN (and a press release on the Westboro Baptist Church website), they have announced that they will picket at her funeral.
“God Hates Elizabeth Edwards!” their press release cried, announcing that they would be in Raleigh, North Carolina, Saturday for funeral of the 61-year-old mother of three. The notice issued by pastor Fred Phelps, leader of the WBC congregation, and his group warned that people should “flee her example — it’s latter end is disease & death & orphaned children!” The release went on to say that Edwards and her “whorish” husband had wanted material things, that she had “insisted” on her own death and the death of her 16-year-old son, that she had turned away from god and caused her children to be orphans.
In short, Westboro Baptist Church blamed Edwards for her cancer and her death. They finished their press release by stating adamantly, “Elizabeth Edwards is in Hell.”
Needless to say, with press releases like the aforementioned, the church and its followers have become the center of several national dialogues on religion and the constitutional right to freedom of expression since their formation in 1955.
Westboro Baptist Church, which is a tiny extreme religious sect boasting less than a hundred members, built its reputation on scandal and controversy — predominantly self-generated. They rose to national prominence after they picketed the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a gay man beaten to death by two men because of his homosexuality. They then began appearing at funerals and memorial services of servicemen killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their intolerant signs and placards — “God Hates F–s,” “God Hates The U.S.”, etc. — became magnets for the media and, before long, the entire world knew who Pastor Fred Phelps was and what the Church stood for and against, which was rooted in biblical Old Testament theology and a vengeful, retributive god.
In 2006, unable to take the disrespect shown his son, the father of Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder sued the church for defamation and invasion of privacy after they published a press release and picketed the funeral of his son. Albert Snyder won his case in 2007 and a court ordered Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church to pay damages in the amount of $11 million. An appeal, however, would see the ruling overturned in federal appeals court.
The church has been very active over the years, taking special note of deaths of prominent actors and celebrities to preach the vengeance of god upon them and those who were in any way associated with them. Among those members of the Westboro Baptist Church targeted in the last few years were actor Heath Ledger, comedian Bernie Mac, singer Isaac Hayes, and civil rights activist and humanitarian Coretta Scott King. They also made an exception to picket the parade held in honor of Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps.
“Westboro Baptist Church says it will picket Elizabeth Edwards’ funeral,” CNN.com
Westboro Baptist Church press release via “‘God Hates Fags’ Crazies of Westboro Bpatist Church to picket Elizabeth Edwards’ funeral,” CreativeLoafing.com