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Westboro Baptist Church Members Continue to Work in Corrections

by Matt Clarke

Fred W. Phelps, Sr., 85, was widely known as the founder and leader of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas – a cult-like group that practices hate speech at the most inappropriate venues, including funerals for soldiers killed in combat. The church, which has no relation to the mainstream Baptist Church, is reportedly considered a hate group by the Anti-Defamation League and Southern Poverty Law Center.

Phelps made headlines as he publicly decried the U.S. for its tolerance of homosexuality. In a press release directed at what he perceived as Republican Ted Cruz’s lukewarm opposition to gay rights, Phelps said, “Unless you are loudly, boldly and unequivocally proclaiming that ‘God Hates Fags,’ that ‘Fags Doom Nations,’ and that America is therefore doomed, you are not a legitimate candidate to lead this nation in these last, dark days AND you are ashamed of Christ.”

Cruz, a 2016 presidential candidate, has publicly opposed gay marriage, gender-identity restroom use and other extensions of civil rights to the LGBT community, which provides some insight into the level of the Westboro Baptist Church’s ideological hatred and bigotry.

Phelps was considered a brilliant civil rights lawyer in the 1960s. He was disbarred by the Kansas Supreme Court in 1979 for showing “little regard for the ethics of his profession.” Fred Phelps died on March 19, 2014, shortly after being excommunicated from the Westboro Baptist Church. No funeral was held.

The law firm he founded, Phelps Chartered, remains open and is staffed mostly by family members; eleven of his 13 children are lawyers. Many of the members of his church’s small congregation are from his extended family.

“The media portrays us as a bunch of uneducated, knuckle-dragging hillbillies,” said senior Westboro member Steve Drain. “But we are stable, educated people who just happen to believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible.” That interpretation apparently does not include “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”

But other than the Phelps’ law firm, where could you find employment for people who believe in disrupting the funerals of fallen soldiers, LGBT persons, a dozen West Virginia miners killed in a mining accident and the victims of school shootings with signs and shouted slogans of “God hates America” and “God hates fags?” Apparently in prisons and jails, as previously reported in Prison Legal News. [See: PLN, Dec. 2006, p.33].

Margie Phelps, Fred’s daughter, works for the Kansas Department of Corrections (DOC) in the state prison system’s reentry office. Fred Phelps, Jr. is a former parole officer and staff attorney in the DOC’s legal services office. Abigail Phelps is a Corrections Counselor II Reentry Specialist at the Kansas Juvenile Correctional Complex. Timothy Phelps is the deputy director in charge of adult detention at the Shawnee County Department of Corrections, where Elizabeth Phelps and daughter-in-law Lee Ann Phelps-Brown were formerly employed.

In Kansas, corrections staff and attorneys – who are public employees – can spew hateful, grossly inappropriate speech without fear of losing their jobs.

Ironically, Lee Ann Phelps-Brown was quoted as saying Donald Trump was “sort of fringe” at the Kansas GOP caucus in 2016. More likely he was not fringe enough for their hate-filled worldview.

What is too extreme for the Westboro Baptist Church is the National Socialist Movement (NSM). When contacted by the neo-Nazi organization, which offered to send “uniformed NSM stormtroopers to stand shoulder to shoulder with the picketers of the WBC,” the Phelps made it clear they did not want Nazis participating in their protests.

It’s easy to see how the NSM could think the Westboro Baptist Church was a like-minded group, since both spew messages of extreme hatred. The Nazis say their positions are based on Nationalist Socialist ideology while the Phelps claim they are following their own interpretation of the Bible. The end result, though, is the same. 


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