Nathan Phelps, son of Westboro Baptist Church Pastor Fred Phelps and atheist activist, will be speaking at GW in early April, the GW Secular Society confirmed this week.
Phelps, brother of Shirley Phelps (who spoke to the GW Patriot in 2010) and Executive Director of the Center for Inquiry Canada, will be hosted by GWSS, a new organization comprised of mostly humanists, agnostics and atheists. The group held a bake sale on Thursday in Ivory to raise money for speaker’s flight from Calgary.
Phelps will be speaking about religion, atheism and LGBT issues. “Mr. Phelps is an atheist, yes, but he has a lot to say about LGBT rights, child abuse, and religions that abuse their rights,” said Julie Mankowski, president of GWSS. “We all have different religious beliefs, but there is generally a consensus in views towards the Westboro Baptist Church, which makes Mr. Phelps’ story a good fit for the politically passionate student body we have.”
The Westboro Baptist Church, known for its controversial views on marriage and Zionism – particularly its mantra that “God Hates Fags” – has garnered nearly universal revulsion in mainstream politics. The group routinely pickets the funerals of soldiers killed in action and the funerals of notable figures.
The GW Secular Society, which was founded in September, is one of the newer organizations on campus. In its short time, though, it’s already seen some backlash to its advertising and existence.
Just before winter break, the group posted signs featuring the faces of its members with the tagline “this is what an atheist looks like.” In some cases, the word ‘atheist’ was replaced by ‘humanist’ or ‘agnostic.’
Signs have already been torn down, which doesn’t surprise Mankowski. “I was expecting people to tear the flyers down, despite their innocent nature,” she said, “It’s easy to just rip flyers down when you don’t like them and it’s anonymous, so you don’t have to pay any consequences for your prejudices.”
A popular social figure on campus, ‘Only at GW,’ which maintains a few media outlets online, posted a picture on Instagram of one of the group’s fliers, adding that “maybe [GW] should have capped the amount of student orgs at 300?” and tagging the post with “#quiteWhileYourAhead.”
“This response both upset me and surprised me,” said Mankowski. “It’s less anonymous and is blatantly disrespectful by implying the idea that GWSS should not have been formulated and that we should ‘quit while we’re ahead.’ GWSS was my brain-child so I take it personally, but more importantly than that, it’s discriminatory and hateful. These flyers are beyond innocent and they picture fellow GW students. If people have problems with that, then they will have problems with anything we do, and that just goes to show we have a lot of work to do.”
A member of GWSS, freshman Pat Brehm, wrote that “maybe you should stop giving atheists a reason to prove they’re normal people.”
While he respects the freedom of speech, Brehm told the GW Patriot, “basically saying that the GWSS shouldn’t be allowed to be an org while other faiths have had established orgs is discrimination.”