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No 'hate' designation.

WASHINGTON * Responding to five online petitions, totaling more than 674,560 signatures, the White House called the activities by the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church "reprehensible" but declined to designate it as a "hate group."

As a result, Westboro, based in Topeka, Kan., will keep its tax-exempt status.

In response to Westboro's plan to picket the funerals of Newtown, Conn., shooting victims, five petitions were created last December on the "We the People" website, an official platform for requesting action from the Obama administration. The petitions gathered 100,000 signatures within 30 days.

The petition with the most signatures--367,180--said Westboro poses "a threat to the welfare and treatment of others and will not improve without some form of imposed regulation."

In 2011, the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in favor of the church's right to continue protesting, saying the First Amendment protects "even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate."

In its response to the "We the People" drive, the White House applauded the petitions for showing "how strong the bonds that unite us can be. ... Together, we're more resilient than those who would try to drive us apart."

The Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center both have classified Westboro as a hate group.

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Title Annotation:Westboro Baptist Church; US BRIEFS
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Brief article
Geographic Code:1U4KS
Date:Jul 19, 2013
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