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UPDATE: Westboro Baptist Church Founder Fred Phelps Dies At 84

Updated on March 20 at 11:24 CT: WIBW and the Topeka Capital-Journal has confirmed that Fred Phelps, the founder of Westboro Baptist Church, has died at the age of 84.

The founder of Westboro Baptist Church, 84-year-old Fred Phelps, appears to be near death. That is according to a Facebook post by one of his sons, Nate Phelps, who is not a member of the church. A church spokesman has confirmed Phelps is in hospice care.

Members of the Phelps family who aren't in the church say Fred Phelps was excommunicated from the organization last year and hasn't been serving as the group's leader, but people in the church haven't confirmed that.

Phelps founded the church in the 1950s.

He was known as an award-winning civil rights attorney before gaining national attention for protesting at funerals. The group became more noticed for protests against homosexuality and abortion in the 1990s.

The Westboro Baptist Church protests at military funerals because they say military deaths are God's retribution for the nation tolerance of homosexuality. The protests have led to legal battles and laws against picketing at funerals.

Stephen Koranda is Statehouse reporter for Kansas Public Radio and the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, KMUW, Kansas Public Radio and High Plains Radio covering health, education and politics.