Totally heterosexual Westboro Baptist Church members protest. (Photo : Reuters)
Shortly after the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre, the Westboro Baptist Church posted a tweet announcing its intentions to picket the school "to sing praise to God for the glory of his work in executing his judgment."
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Hundreds of thousands of Americans spoke out against the anti-gay group in an official petition to the Obama administration in hopes of spurring the federal government to label the church as a hate group.
The FBI defines a hate group as "an organization whose primary purpose is to promote animosity, hostility, and malice against persons belonging to a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity/national origin which differs from that of the members of the organization."
Notably, no official FBI list of hate groups has been published. For all intents and purposes, the Westboro Baptist Church may already carry such a title.
The hate group petition currently hosts 301,594 signatures, far surpassing the 25,000 required to incite a response from the administration. While there is no standard period of response, the site promises that the White House will answer any petition that reaches its signature goal "in a timely fashion."
Two recent petitions, one calling upon the government to reform gun regulation laws and the other concerning the Russian ban on adoptions from the U.S. triggered a quick turn-around from Obama's staff, as statements appeared less than a week after the petitions were originally crafted.
The petition reads, "[The Church's] actions have been directed at many groups, including homosexuals, military, Jewish people and even other Christians. They pose a threat to the welfare and treatment of others and will not improve without some form of imposed regulation."
So, what happens if the Westboro Baptist Church is dubbed as a hate group? Typically the FBI amps up surveillance efforts on the group's members and does its part to curtail hate crimes, yet there are still limitations on the organization's authority. In 2006, the Church was sued for invasion of privacy, among other charges, for protesting the funeral of Marine Mathew Snyder. The Synder family initially won the case, but the ruling was eventually thrown out in an appeals court which decided that Westboro was protected under the First Amendment.
For a full list of hate groups in the United States, visit the Southern Poverty Law Center database.