In response to several citizen petitions asking that the controversial Westboro Baptist Church be labeled a hate group, the White House said it cannot issue a comment though it agrees that the church's practices are "reprehensible."
"To the extent that these petitions request a particular law enforcement or adjudicatory action, we cannot issue a comment," the official response reads. "In addition, as a matter of practice, the federal government doesn't maintain a list of hate groups. That's the prerogative of private organizations like the Anti-Defamation League and Southern Poverty Law.
Westboro Baptist Church, which is based in Kansas but is not affiliated with any denomination, has stirred controversy around the country for protesting at soldiers' funerals over its belief that God has condemned America for its tolerance of homosexuality.
One petition sent to the White House and signed by over 367,000 people says Westboro has targeted a number of groups, including Jewish people and other Christians, and that it poses "a threat to the welfare and treatment of others and will not improve without some form of imposed regulation."
Other petitions have called on the Obama administration to revoke the group's tax-exempt status because of the hatred it promotes.
"The members of this hate group make a practice of targeting funerals to make their case, routinely inflicting further pain and anguish onto the mourning families of deceased soldiers and, even worse, the victims of tragic crimes," the petition signed by over 92,000 people states. "They hold signs thanking God and celebrating the deaths of these people. They wave these signs in the faces of the families."
Agreeing with the sentiment of the citizens, the White House said in its official statement, "[W]e agree that practices such as protesting at the funerals of men and women who died in service to this country and preventing their families from mourning peacefully are reprehensible – a point that President Obama has made for years. That's why he signed a law to ensure that protesters keep an appropriate distance at military funerals.
"As the President has said, 'The graves of our veterans are hallowed ground, and when men and women die in the service of their country and are laid to rest, it should be done with the utmost honor and respect.'"
The White House noted that a significant percentage of the signers of the petition calling on Westboro to be designated a hate group came from two places – Kansas, where the local community are able to see the actions of the group directly, and in Newtown, Conn., the site of the school shooting tragedy last December that left 20 children dead. Westboro had threatened to picket the funerals of the young victims.
Most recently, Westboro has made known its intent to picket the funerals of the 19 firefighters who died while trying to contain a raging wildfire in Arizona.
"Westboro Baptist Church THANKS GOD for AZ fires that killed 19 firefighters!" the group posted on Twitter. "Arizona already starting their idolatrous procession of doom! Shame on you all! Stop worshipping MEN & worship GOD!"
Expressing their disgust, many have already spoken out against Westboro's plans.
"Those Westboro people are an embarrassment to the human race," commenter BarbaraMainBuck wrote on an ABC15.com story about the planned protest. "They need to accurately name/identify their group as the prideful, condemning, people haters that they are. They do NOT follow Christ. They do NOT imitate Christ."