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Son says Fred Phelps' church will not last

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TOPEKA | The estranged son of a controversial Kansas pastor encouraged people to feel sympathy for members of his father's church, "at least for the young children stuck in that situation."

Nate Phelps, 51, spoke in Topeka on Saturday, marking his first trip in 20 years to the city where his father, Fred Phelps, runs Westboro Baptist church. He described the fear, intimidation and abuse he endured before leaving the family and church on his 18th birthday.

He said that while society is quick to take steps to protect children, it seems "curiously blind" when religious beliefs jeopardize a child's safety. He also predicted that the group would eventually die out.

None of its members picketed the speech.

Westboro Baptist members, many of them Fred Phelps' children and grandchildren, have conducted anti-homosexual picketing in Topeka and other cities since 1991. They began picketing soldiers' funerals in recent years, saying military deaths were the work of a wrathful God who punishes the United States for tolerating homosexuality.

The Supreme Court will hear one such case this fall in which a soldier's family sued the church to halt the demonstrations. A lower court ordered the soldier's family to pay the church's court costs — a $16,500 judgment that the congregation said it would use for more protests.
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