Maddy Brady, center, questions Jacob Phelps, grandson of Fred Phelps, during the opening arguments at the U.S. Supreme Court in Snyder v. Phelps in Washington, D.C., Wednesday, October 6, 2010. Supreme Court justices pondered the vexing question of whether the father of a dead Marine from Westminster, Maryland, should win his lawsuit against the fundamentalist Westboro Baptist Church group that picketed his son's funeral. (Source: Tribune News Service)

Rebecca Barrett-Fox, Ph.D., Westboro Baptist Church expert and author of “God Hates,” spoke on the role of children and ideologies within the Westboro Baptist Church on Jan. 23 at a lecture hosted by Weber State University’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology.

During her lecture, Barrett-Fox centered on the child-rearing practices of the church and the use of children to propagate the church’s message. Barrett-Fox asked students to think on what constitutes religious abuse and whether or not children should be protected from ideology.

“I want students to think about the bigger questions. What right does a parent have to impose ideology on a child? Are there limits to that right?” Barrett-Fox said. “Those are questions that should extend beyond religion. They have real social implications.”

Dr. Rebecca Barrett-Fox, author of God Hates, speaks to Weber State University students about the Westboro Baptist Church. (Rachel Storm / The Signpost)

Barrett-Fox specializes in hate, religion and sex at Arkansas State University and has spent over six years studying the dynamics of the Westboro Baptist Church. She said Utah is a good place to study all three, noting that students in Utah would likely experience a form of hate because of their religion or sexual orientation. Ariel Olson, a student and advocate in WSU’s LGBT community, attended the lecture.

“I hoped to gain insight about why they think what they are doing is okay,” Olson said. “This showed me a whole other side to these people. Before, I really didn’t like them, but now I almost feel bad for the kids.”

The Westboro Baptist Church is widely known for its hate speech against the LGBT community.

Olson was particularly shocked at the Westboro Baptist Church’s use of children in propaganda videos featured on YouTube and other social media platforms.

“It’s definitely psychological abuse,” Olson said. “These kids are going to grow up and only be known for these terrible things they said before they know what they really mean.”

Tyler Jones, a military veteran and WSU junior, attended the lecture with hopes of gaining greater insight into the Westboro Baptist Church’s beliefs. Jones witnessed a Westboro Baptist Church protest at a military funeral — something they’re known for doing frequently.

Jones said this lecture changed his perspective of the Westboro Baptist Church.

“I’m really focused on this concept of teaching ideology to children,” Jones said. “Not just religious ideology but patriotism, morals and other forms — where do you draw the line?”

Over 40 students attended the lecture, leaving standing room only.

Barrett-Fox was pleased with the reception of the event. She also found the social dynamic in Utah intriguing.

“Everyone is very friendly. Weber is really lovely,” Barrett-Fox said. “During my lecture I made a point not to mention the LDS (church), but I hope students thought about it.”

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