In the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre and their threat to picket the funerals there's a petition on the White House site to have the Westboro Baptist Church “legally recognize[d] as a hate group”. It already has over 158,000 signatures.
Tempting as it is, you shouldn't sign it.
First off, there is no such “legal recognition as a hate group”. It's a political label but it has no legal significance.
Second, and more importantly, this is a proposal to have the government single out one group for some kind of adverse treatment based on the religious or political views of that group. This is entirely antithetical to the First Amendment and the core values that underlie our system of government and way of life.
I take a back seat to nobody in my loathing of this organization. That is why they need and are entitled to the protection of the First Amendment.
There is no basis to claim that it isn't a bona fide church: plenty of church and religious groups espouse hateful ideas. Even churches that espouse hateful ideas are entitled to the protection of the First Amendment.
Granted, the Phelpses and their followers are undoubtedly among the vilest, most hateful people on the face of the earth.
On the other hand, so far as I know the Westboro Baptist Church has never done anything to actually hurt anybody.
There's no sign that they ever harrassed or beat women and girls for wearing what they considered indecent clothing.
And there is certainly no evidence that they ever delivered thousands of children to the hands of child rapists, and then established religious edicts to prevent the exposure of the criminals.
No, as far as I can see, the Westboro Baptist Church has done a lot less damage than almost any “mainstream” church.
Besides, it's not the popular ideas and groups who need the protection of the First Amendment.
So don't sign the petition. Hate the Westboros all you like, but don't ask the government to use the power of the state to silence them.
If we start taking away rights from the Westboros because they express political views we don't like, where do we stop, and who will protect us when someone tries to silence us.