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White House calls Westboro church protests 'reprehensible'

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House said on Wednesday that it views anti-gay protests of Westboro Baptist Church at military funerals as "reprehensible" but acknowledged it could do little about the group.

The White House made its comments after five petitions created by Americans on its "We the People" website attracted almost 675,000 signatures.

The petitions asked the government to name the church, based in Topeka, Kansas, as a hate group, or end its tax-exempt status. The White House responded that it could not directly comment on the requests, and noted that the government does not keep a list of hate groups.

"That all said, we agree that practices such as protesting at the funerals of men and women who died in service to this country and preventing their families from mourning peacefully are reprehensible - a point that President Obama has made for years," the White House said.

The church has successfully defended its right to free speech in court.

The petitions were launched after the group threatened to picket in Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 elementary school students and six adults were shot to death in December.

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Jackie Frank and Vicki Allen)

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