KANSAS CITY, Mo. – At 275,000 signatures and counting, the petition with the most signatures on the White House website as of Thursday seeks to have the federal government “legally recognize” the Topeka, Kan.-based Westboro Baptist Church as a hate group.
The White House has promised to respond to any petition with 25,000 signatures, but it has not responded to this one yet.
Groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center have long had the Westboro group on their lists of hate groups.
The problem is there is no such designation as a “hate group” in federal law.
The government compiles no official lists. Federal laws refer only to hate crimes, which the FBI characterizes as any “traditional offense like murder, arson or vandalism with an added element of bias” based on the victim’s race, gender, ethnicity or other such characteristic.
“Our concern is in the actions of certain individuals,” FBI spokesman Christopher Allen said, adding that Americans have a right to belong to whatever groups they choose, even ones whose philosophies many people might find objectionable.
The FBI declined to comment on the petition, which is part of an effort called We the People: Your Voice in Our Government.
It is the most popular petition ever on the website, with more than twice as many signatures as any other before.
The petition was created Dec. 14, the day 26 victims, including 20 students, were killed in a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
The Westboro group, which has gained infamy by carrying anti-gay pickets nearly anywhere a camera will see them, including military funerals, had planned to protest at the service for the murdered Sandy Hook principal. That plan was foiled by counterprotesters.
The petition says the group “has repeatedly displayed the actions typical of hate groups” and has directed its protests “at many groups, including homosexuals, military, Jewish people and even other Christians.”
It goes on to say that Westboro church members “pose a threat to the welfare and treatment of others and will not improve without some form of imposed regulation.”
However, the group says it does not advocate violence, nor have its members ever been accused of violent acts in furtherance of the group’s agenda.