YONKERS, N.Y. -- Fred Phelps, the 84-year-old founder of the Westboro Baptist Church, is reportedly in poor condition and currently in hospice care according to a Facebook post from his estranged son, Nate Phelps.
The Westboro Baptist Church, based in Kansas, is a Primitive Baptist church considered a hate group by many due to their inflammatory protests at various events, specifically funerals. The Church's main platform is characterized by staunch anti-homosexuality, and Phelps has served as the face of the church since its founding in 1955.
Though some people in Yonkers consider Phelps to be an evil person, they did not believe the sickness and death of such a controversial figure should be celebrated.
"No one should be happy someone is dead," said Harry Meyers, a student from Bronxville High School who was enjoying lunch with his friends at Cross County Shopping Center.
"Even if I don't necessarily agree with his views, Fred Phelps is using his First Amendment Rights. Plenty of captains of industry in our history were racist, and that was acceptable in those times. If we had censored those people, we wouldn't have what we do today," he said.
His classmate, Jack Braumuller of Bronxville, did not know who Phelps was, but said the quality of his character will be decided upon his death.
"He's allowed to believe whatever he wants," he said. "Who's to say he's wrong? I personally don't think God hates gay people, but, the outcome of his funeral is most likely what will dictate if he was a good or bad person," he said. "If you're a good person, people that respect you or what you impacted will mourn you. If you're a bad person, they won't. The world's opinion of (Phelps) will be reflected at his funeral."
Barbara Keating of Yonkers said while she would not be happy if Phelps died, she felt his message was poisonous and detrimental to society.
"Free speech should be limited if it hurts the American people. There's a line that needs to be considered. The Nazis were given free speech, and look how that turned out. (The Westboro Baptist Church) has gone way too far," she said.
Keating said she was pessimistic about the Church disbanding or ending its protests after Phelps' death.
"Of course I wouldn't be happy if he died, but unfortunately I doubt his church or his message will die with him. He's probably already picked someone to take his place," she said.
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