(WASHINGTON) — A growing number of people want to designate the Westboro Baptist Church as a hate group.
The Kansas-based church gained notoriety for protesting military funerals with anti-gay messages, and threatened to protest the recent funerals of the young Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victims.
More than 280,000 people have signed a digital petition on the White House’s website requesting that the church be labeled a hate group, well above the number needed to mandate a response from the Obama administration. According to The Huffington Post, the petition is the single most popular petition ever created through the White House’s “We the People” site.
The petition was submitted on December 14, the day the Newtown, Connecticut, massacre occurred. The shooting also sparked gun control petitions on the same site, which generated enough support to prompt the White House to release a video of President Obama calling for increased gun control.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) handles some individual hate crimes, but it does not keep a public list of hate groups. However, several groups, including the Southern Poverty Law Center, have already labeled the church a hate group, and the FBI’s website lists the center as a resource. The center defines a hate group as one that has “beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.”
Several other petitions calling for action against the church have also generated at least 25,000 signatures, the number needed to warrant a response from the Obama administration. Some petitions request that the organization’s tax-exempt status be revoked.
The church is best known for picketing military funerals. While the Obama administration has not specifically outlawed Westboro from doing so, the president signed a bill in August that prevents protesters from coming within 300 feet of military funerals and prohibits protests two hours before or after a service.
Westboro Baptist Church did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Deirdre Walsh and Eugene Scott, CNN
Nate Eaton, EastIdahoNews.com
Jackie Wattles, CNN