03/18/2014 01:25 pm ET Updated Mar 18, 2014

Westboro Baptist Church Founder Sued Reagan For Violating Separation Of Church And State

Westboro Baptist Church founder Fred Phelps is well known for his anti-LGBT activism and military funeral picketing, but the controversial preacher's political resume spans a wide range of seemingly paradoxical positions.

Prior to his disbarment, the same man who would later call the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks the wrath of God "smiting fag America," served as a skilled civil rights attorney who battled racial discrimination against African Americans.

He also once sued then-President Ronald Reagan. In January of 1984, Phelps filed a lawsuit against Reagan for violating the First Amendment’s separation of church and state by appointing a U.S. ambassador, William Wilson, to the Vatican.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Topeka, Kan., sought to prohibit the president from establishing diplomatic relations with the Vatican.

"The Holy See is not a foreign government, as such, with which this government has a legitimate need to establish such relations but is, instead, merely the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church," Phelps argued, according to a Fort Scott Tribune article published in 1984.

Phelps also called Reagan's appointment "patently violative of the establishment clause of the 1st Amendment, in that it purposely accomplishes a predominately religious purpose, it has the effect of favoring one religion over another ... and it involves the entanglement of this government in the religious affairs of said church."

Phelps claimed that as "an American citizen and taxpayer and a Baptist preacher over 35 years of the primitive or Old School Baptist order," he held "a vested religious interest in the separation of church and state since the days of the founding of the republic."

The suit was dismissed by the U.S. District Court in October of 1986.

Phelps, whose health is in critical condition, is reportedly nearing the end of his life at a hospice center in Kansas.



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