Phelps-Roper sisters discuss their escape from a family of hate

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Phelps-Roper sisters discuss their escape from a family of hate

Alice Hickson, News Editor

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Former members of the controversial Westboro Baptist Church (WBC), Megan and Grace Phelps-Roper, spoke at the Westport Country Playhouse on March 28 and in the Staples auditorium March 29 for an event hosted by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

As granddaughters of the church’s founder and main pastor, Fred Phelps, the sisters provided insight into their experiences of growing up in Topeka, Kansas surrounded by hate speech and violence aimed at many groups, including homosexuals, Jewish people and members of the military.

As granddaughters of the church’s founder and main pastor, Fred Phelps, the sisters provided insight into their experiences of growing up in Topeka, Kansas surrounded by hate speech and violence aimed at many groups, including homosexuals, Jewish people and members of the military.

“We grew up behind picket signs,” Grace said.

The sisters discussed their experiences reflectively with interjected humor. The audience and sisters chuckled while looking back on what now seemed ridiculous practices of the church.

“I picketed my own high school graduation before I walked in,” Megan laughed.

Simon Ginsburg, director of the ADL in the Connecticut region, opened the event by expressing his hopes that this presentation would inspire everyone to further the ADL’s mission which is simply, “a world without hate.”

In their opening speech, Megan spoke of the realization that brought her to leave the church, a reason surprising to many audience members.

Megan had attacked a Jewish man, David, over Twitter which then sparked a conversation about their respective faith. After about a year of this back-and-forth conversation,  the thought of leaving finally crossed Megan’s mind.

“It was terrifying. I had never considered leaving,” Megan said recalling the moment. “It was the first time I realized the church could be wrong about something.”

After four months of heavy consideration, Grace and Megan finally left.

“Now we are just trying to do for others what David helped do for me,” Megan said.

After the sisters made opening remarks, the evening turned  into a question and answer session between Deborah Lauter, Senior Vice President of the ADL, the audience and the Phelps-Roper sisters.

Of the several hundred audience members, many were students.

Julie Kaplan ’17 had watched the documentary “The Most Hated Family in America” about the WBC in her AP Government and Politics class.

“I had a lot of questions coming into it, but I think I definitely left with more,” Kaplan said. “I see the whole group very differently after actually seeing how normal these people were.”

The WBC was put in a more humane light after the sisters showed how this lifestyle was all they had ever known.

“You always hear about the Westboro Baptist Church on the news,” Thomas Moy ’17 said. “This presentation added a human face to the inner workings of the church.”

The Phelps family currently makes up 70 percent of the church and of the 11 siblings in the Phelps-Roper family, four have made the choice to leave. When Megan and Grace left, they saw their older brother for the first time since he had left the church eight years prior.

“We are all just lost and trying to rebuild our lives,” Grace said. “There was a comfort in having people tell you what to believe and how your life was going to play out, but I’d take the freedom and uncertainty of my life now any day before going back.”