Nearly 250,000 people have signed a WhiteÂ House petition that would label Westboro Baptist Church as a hate group afterÂ its members announced plans to picket a vigil for children killed in theÂ Newtown, Connecticut school massacre.
TheÂ petition, which was created onÂ December 14, had logged 247,170 signatures by Wednesday morning – making it theÂ largest online White House petition in history.
Petitions need 25,000 signatures to beÂ reviewed by the administration.
Westboro Baptist Church has made nationalÂ news in the past for its strong views against homosexuality. The religious groupÂ blames most tragedies – from the death of American soldiers to the recentÂ massacre of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School – on whatÂ they call a ‘pro-gay’ agenda in the U.S.
The White House petition was formed afterÂ church spokesperson Shirey Phelps-Roper tweeted plans to protest a vigil for theÂ Sandy Hook victims to ‘sing praise to God for the glory of his work in executingÂ his judgement.
Westboro’s Margie Phelps said in aÂ video-taped interview that God sent the 20-year-old Adam Lanza, the Sandy HookÂ shooter, to kill people in Connecticut because the state legalized same-sexÂ marriage.
‘Connecticut was one of the first states toÂ come out with same-sex marriage,’ Phelps said as she sat beside aÂ blood-red-stained sign that read: ‘God sent the shooter.’
‘Many more shooters, many more dead areÂ coming,’ she said.
The Southern Poverty Law Center calls theÂ Westboro Baptist Church ‘arguably the most obnoxious and rabid hate group inÂ America.’ The Anti-Defamation League calls it ‘a small virulently homophobic,Â anti-Semitic hate group.’
The White House petition was formed after churchÂ spokesperson Shirey Phelps-Roper tweeted plans to protest a vigil
Despite widespread opposition against theÂ group, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the church in 2011,Â saying that it’sÂ right to picket funerals was protected under the FirstÂ Amendment.
President Obama signed legislation earlierÂ this year, however, requiring protests to be held at least 300 feet fromÂ military funerals.
The hacking group known as ‘Anonymous’ hasÂ started separate White House petitionÂ to strip Westboro BaptistÂ Church of its tax-exempt status. The petition had garnered more than 63,000Â signatures as of Wednesday morning.
‘The Westboro Baptist Church is better-knownÂ for homophobic displays, suing people and picketing funerals than for providingÂ Christian care to a community,’ according to the petition. ‘Due to theirÂ harassment and politicking, their IRS tax-exempt status should be immediatelyÂ investigated.’
Anonymous also claims that it hackedÂ Westboro’s website and released personal information about church membersÂ including names, street addresses, phone numbers and email addresses.