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Westboro Baptist Church returning to CMU April 23

Shirley Phelps-Roper of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka Kansas, argues with students in the Dow Science building in November of 2010. Roper and her two daughters Megan and Rebekah were invited by CMU journalism professor Dr. Timothy Boudreau, to speak to his classes and demonstrate the importance of first amendment rights. (Andrew Kuhn/Staff Photographer)

Associate Professor of Journalism Tim Boudreau likes to follow a tradition of inviting a controversial speaker to his classes each semester to better demonstrate an understanding of the freedom of speech.

This semester, Boudreau has scheduled a return appearance for the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan. to come speak at Central Michigan University on April 23.

“Students are excited about having a chance to talk, discuss and debate with people who are in the news and with whom they disagree,” Boudreau said. “I might say that folks shouldn’t confuse my allowing them to speak with my endorsing what they have to say.”

Shirley Phelps-Roper, daughter of the church’s founder Fred Phelps, will be returning for her second visit to CMU. She first appeared on campus, along with daughters Megan and Rebekah, in November 2010.

“The first time was … wow, amazing,” Phelps-Roper said by phone Tuesday. “There was a lot of interaction and a lot of intensity, and we were very thankful for the opportunity to speak to those people. We couldn’t have asked for anything more than just that.”

This time around, Shirley will be accompanied by her brother Fred Phelps Jr., daughter-in-law Jennifer Phelps-Roper and another member of the church.

The family gained acknowledgment for protesting at funerals of American military members killed in combat, as well as the BBC documentary “The Most Hated Family in America.”

“I bring in groups who illustrate concepts we talk about in class, and I think few groups better illustrate the limits of free expression than Westboro Baptist Church,” Boudreau said.

Both of his JRN 101: Mass Communications classes are scheduled to hear from the family, as well as his JRN 404: Law of Mass Communication class.

The event will be a closed class setting, though open by invitation for a small group outside those enrolled in the courses.

“I’ve had people ask if their friends can come in, and I welcome and encourage that,” he said. “The number of people we let in will depend on the size of the room and what campus police think, but unfortunately we can’t open it up to the general public.”

Boudreau said the family was happy to accept the invitation, a contrast from their usual procedures of showing up to events unexpectedly. Shirley said invited or not, it’s all done for God.

“With the eyes we have, you will see all of it as works of God, and he does this thing in one place and that thing in another place,” she said. “They are all results with preaching the gospel of the kingdom of Heaven to the whole world.”

The main topic of discussion will be wrapped around freedom of speech, protected under the First Amendment, which the members of the Westboro Baptist Church are well educated on.

“I’m a lawyer and so is Fred, Jr.,” Shirley said. “Of my parent’s 13 kids, 11 are lawyers. That First Amendment is the crowning jewel of all gifts given to this country by God.”

Boudreau said he didn’t feel people should refuse to pay speakers who are unpopular, because the campus would find itself rather quiet.

That being said, he said the Westboro Baptist Church members didn’t ask for compensation during their last visit, and he doesn’t expect that will change this semester.


  1. Westboro Baptist Church spreads its hate through picketing
    in our streets, provoking attacks, with abusive language and flag desecration,
    attempting to create a confrontation. This is not a church, this is a hate
    group. This is not about protesting, freedom, or God. They are in it for the
    money and the press; this is a family law firm. They are not a
    “church.” It is a scam. They go after anything that can get them in
    the news. This is a family of lawyers using this “god hates you” thing to make
    money. It is time for this scam and the hate to end.

     The church has
    received money from lawsuits and legal fees. For example, they sued the city of
    Topeka several times in the 1990s(this show has been going on for years). WBC
    received $16,500, and is pursuing another $100,000, in legal fees for a case
    won in court. The WBC is considered a nonprofit organization by the federal
    government, and is therefore exempt from paying taxes!

    Phelps-Roper of the Westboro Baptist Church is shown
    admitting on camera that her oldest son was born out of wedlock. Hypocritical
    Phelps-Roper’s vocal condemnation on strangers having sexual congress outside
    of marriage while she herself was guilty of the same. They are NOT what they
    say they are! THEY ARE NOT A CHURCH!

    • CMU Alum '78 says:

      Dead-on.  More importantly, they ARE NOT Christians.

    • rumsfelds_rules says:

      Westboro is not much different then what Sharpton/Jackson and company are doing in Florida with the Trayvon incident. Both factions are from Christian sects and both groups are purposefully inciting civil unrest in the name of Jesus.

  2. Why doesn’t Dr. Boudreau invite Greenpeace or PETA, some notable far-left, radical organizations to give a talk? Why not radical anarchists? Is he too afraid to allow the other side of a polarizing debate to come and express opinions? Seems a bit problematic if he’s trying to push “the limits of free speech.”

    • Cmlifecommenter says:

      Anybody who knows Dr. Boudreau that he’s not sympathetic to conservative causes.  He’s pretty liberal.  He invites a lot of people but we only here about the ones who show.  The more notable ones, like the WBC who come in from out of state usually pay their own way.  Usually he just brings in Preacher Rick or a  local.  

    • rumsfelds_rules says:

       Because the good professor only wants to high light and humiliate conservatives. He never wants to expose extremist speech from the left because if he did he would be punish by his department. The left is a lie. You just had a doctrinaire leftest president condemn one of the three branches of the federal government for full filling its obligation as outlined in the constitution by reviewing the constitutionality of Obama care. Wake up folks the left is a lie. They will steal your constitutional freedoms away from you and enslave you in a totalitarian system.

  3. Michmediaperson says:

    How crazy Liberals are.  The liberal journalism professors bring this far-left, hate group to campus.  Then, the Liberals turn around and bring far-left $30,000 and $40,000 a night liberal hyphenated-American speakers to preach against liberal hate groups.

    Now, I am NOT a liberal.  I’m a Limbaugh Conservative.   Why not eliminate bringing liberal, hate groups to campus then we wouldn’t need to spend $30,000 on far-left, hyphenated-American speakers to preach.

    We could spend the money on scholarships, etc.

    The thinking of far-left liberal PHD’s.

    • The Westboro Baptist Church is liberal? HA! That is hilarious.

    • Trolling hard, or hardly trolling? Or maybe you have your directions confused – Phelps and his family are conservative Christians, quite the opposite of “far left”. Also, if reading comprehension didn’t elude you, you would recognize that the church didn’t ask for compensation the last time it came to CMU, nor does Boudreau expect them to ask for any this time.

      I certainly hope you’re not actually involved in Michigan media. Although I guess I wouldn’t be shocked if I found out you worked in PR or advertising. You know, something where you can just check your brain at the door and go about your day or whatever.

    • This ‘liberal’ professor was faculty advisor to the Campus Conservatives

  4. HOW EXCITING  I get to deal with these FREAKS before class, I will walk around these low life degenerates. Not give them attention like attention *hore teacher.

  5. rumsfelds,
    You are clearly NOT a CMU student. And, if by some chance you are, then might I suggest a remedial English class or two to address basic spelling and grammar skills?

  6. I was in Boudreau’s class last year when we went and saw her speak. He doesn’t endorse what they have to say but, he brings these people in to show what it is that the first amendment protects- being unpopular speech. In the discussion students were able to ask her about her view points and we discussed as a class why the first amendment is so important. I think it is great that more students will have a chance to view how our constitution works. 

  7. So why was he faculty advisor to the Campus Conservatives?

  8. Hey, this is one of the best “freak-shows” in town!  Better than cable or satellite.  I’m still laughing from the last visit!  Nut-jobs, extraordinaire!

  9. Wow. Clearly some of these trolls have not had Boudreau in a class. When Terry Jones (the Quran burning pastor from Florida) visited our JRN404 class last semester students were able to practice reporting/interviewing someone with outrageous views. It was an exercise in reporting and the realization of the power of the first amendment in journalism. There is no political agenda with these visits. Boudreau is not a liberal beatnik pushing his views on people, in fact, I have no idea what his views are – besides believing in free speech. Great teacher – awesome opportunity for JRN students.

  10. Westboro is what’s wrong with the world today

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