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Petition criticizing Westboro Baptists is most popular ever on White House site

Westboro members protest high-profile funerals and events, such as The Response, a day long prayer event in Houston in 2011.

Westboro members protest high-profile funerals and events, such as The Response, a day long prayer event in Houston in 2011. // Pat Sullivan/AP

A petition seeking to have the Westboro Baptist Church legally defined as a hate group outpaced a separate petition asking the Obama Administration to support legislation to further restrict gun ownership on the White House’s We the People website Tuesday.

Both petitions were posted on Friday shortly after a Newtown, Conn., gunman went on a rampage that killed 26 people, including 20 children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School. They are the first and second most popular petitions ever posted to the 16-month old White House website aimed at encouraging citizen participation in government.

About 190,000 people had signed the Westboro Baptist petition as of 2 p.m. Tuesday, compared with about 182,000 who had signed the gun control petition.

Members of the tiny Westboro Baptist Church have pledged to picket the funerals of the Sandy Hook students as they have the funerals of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Church members believe those deaths are god’s punishment for the United States' tolerance of homosexuality. The church is already designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the petition notes.

More than a dozen other petitions have been posted to We the People in the days since the Sandy Hook tragedy asking the government to raise gun control restrictions, improve mental health services or honor the victims. Other petitions have warned the administration against pushing too strongly on gun control.

We the People fell out of the public eye for several months after a flurry of petitions when it first launched. It burst back in November when citizens from all 50 states signed petitions seeking to withdraw from the union after President Obama won reelection. The Sandy Hook petitions followed a month later.

Public engagement with the White House petition site is still significantly lower than with privately run sites. Nearly 400,000 people have signed a petition promoting gun control posted to the site SignOn.org.

Seven of the post-Sandy Hook petitions have crossed We the People’s 25,000 signature threshold to receive an official government response. Four of those petitions attack the Westboro Baptists, two promote gun control and one opposes new gun control measures. 

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