A homophobic Southern Baptist group and gay-rights activists are clashing in cyberspace over a domain the religious group claims was stolen from it.
Visitors to http://www.godhatesfags.com now end up at the http://www.godlovesfags.com Web site, which offers a completely opposite, but also scripture-based opinion. The Web site also features links to gay and lesbian news sites and includes dates and locations where Fred Phelps, the pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, plans to picket funerals of people who have died of AIDS, as well as other events he will attend.
In addition, it appears from the Whois Web site, which lists domain registrations, that the ownership of the hates domain was transferred last night from the Baptist church to The God Loves Fags Organization in Newport, New Hampshire.
"It's a criminal act," said Shirley Phelps-Roper, a daughter of Phelps who said she is also an attorney for the church.
It's not the first time the hate Web site has been hacked or redirected since it went up in January 1997, according to Phelps-Roper. And it probably won't be the last.
"Stay tuned. It will be back up in another 24 hours," she said.
The owner of the godlovesfags domain, ironically named Kris Haight, denied any responsibility.
"I'm not responsible for this at all," he said today. "I'm an interested bystander here."
Haight said he received anonymous e-mails several days ago telling him to watch the "hates" Web site and that his Internet service provider received paperwork last night showing that he was now the new owner of that domain. He then asked his ISP, for which he is network administrator but which he declined to name, to point traffic to the "hates" Web site over to his Web site.
The situation was news to Network Solutions Inc., which controls the master database for all .com domains. An NSI spokesman alerted to the domain swap said he would look into the situation.
Meanwhile, Haight said feedback to the action has been positive.
"I'm getting tons and tons of e-mail from people that support the site and support the change," he said exuberantly. "I want to show that there are people on the Internet who care and that we won't tolerate hate on the Internet."
When asked whether the move might not be violating constitutional rights of free expression, Haight said denying expression in this case was saving lives in the long run.
"There's freedom of expression, but there's a limit to it," he said. "I think that they're promoting hate and violence. I don't think it's right."
Calls to the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Democracy and Technology and the Electronic Frontier Foundation and American Civil Liberties Union, both in San Francisco, were not immediately returned.