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America’s Four Gods, photos taken for the new book

(UPDATED: February 6, 2013. Three granddaughters of Fred Phelps made news today by leaving the Westboro Baptist Church. Grace Phelps, Libby Phelps Alvarez and Megan Phelps Roeper, pictured below, have gone public about their defections. Libby has given an interview to the Today Show, while Megan sat down with Jeff Chu of Fast Company on Medium, as well as posted her own statement today on Medium.)

In the fall of 2008 I was hired to document a day at the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) in Topeka, Kansas.  The book I shot for, America’s Four Gods by Christopher Bader and Paul Froese, was published today. Today the book is featured on the home page of USA Today and on ABC World News Tonight on October 7.  My photos were published in the book.

Led by Fred Phelps (pictured below), the Westboros are best known as God Hates Fags because they believe God punishes society for tolerating homosexuality, among other sins. They’re in the news today because Phelps’s daughter, Margie Phelps, argued yesterday in the U.S. Supreme Court as the defendant in Snyder v. Phelps. The case is well-summarized in Time magazine today.

All photos copyright Nigel J Euling and may not be reproduced or displayed elsewhere without express permission.

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Fred Phelps, leader of Westboro Baptist Church. (© Nigel Euling)

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After the morning service as part of a weekly ritual, many members, including children, participate in the picketing of a busy street corner in Topeka. (© Nigel Euling)

WBC picketed nearby but before the funeral of Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder who was killed in Iraq. His father sued WBC for the mental and physical trauma he experienced when, after the funeral, he learned the specifics of the protest. Phelps argued yesterday that their protest, which included hateful signs with such slogans as “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” and “Thank God For IEDs,” are protected speech under the First Amendment and do not constitute harassment.

The authors of America’s Four Gods use WBC as an extreme example of those who believe in the Authoritative God, who metes out harsh punishment to those who do not follow him. The book, using extensive interviews and survey data, argues that, according to USA Today, “the way we [personify our] God reveals our attitudes on economics, justice, social morality, war, natural disasters, science, politics, love and more.” Other portraits are the Benevolent God, the Critical God and the Distant God.

I documented a WBC church service and activities afterwards, including a breakfast gathering and song, and a typical street protest they conduct in Topeka each week. You can see the photos below and some more at my website.

(To understand what WBC are about, watch Fred Phelps’s diatribe against Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.)

 See more photos below.

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Fred Phelps (© Nigel Euling)

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Megan Phelps Roeper, above left. The truck is loaded just before the day's protest begins. (© Nigel Euling)

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Libby Phelps Alvarez, above right. (© Nigel Euling)

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Fred Phelps delivering his sermon. (© Nigel Euling)

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Fred Phelps's daughter Shirley Phelps Roeper, above left, and her daughter Megan Phelps Roeper. (© Nigel Euling)

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Libby Phelps Alvarez, above left. (© Nigel Euling)

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Shirley Phelps Roeper, above left, with Margie Phelps. (© Nigel Euling)

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Libby Phelps Alvarez, above left, and Megan Phelps Roeper. (© Nigel Euling)

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(UPDATED: February 6, 2013. Three granddaughters of Fred Phelps made news today by leaving the Westboro Baptist Church. Grace Phelps, Libby Phelps Alvarez and Megan Phelps Roeper, pictured below, have gone public about their defections. Libby has given an interview to the Today Show, while Megan sat down with Jeff Chu of Fast Company on Medium, as well as posted her own statement today on Medium.)

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