Religious Bigots Find a Home in the Kansas Prison Industry

Hate is a strong word. Many prison employees and DOC officials are contemptuous of or indifferent to the prisoners in their custody. Detention facility staff are sometimes negligent, retaliatory and even abusive, but they seldom display a fanatical hatred toward prisoners. There is, however, one group whose deep burning hatred and extremism are apparently well suited for employment in the criminal justice field.

For those who aren’t familiar with Rev. Fred W. Phelps, Sr., the 77-year-old reverend leads the fire-and-brimstone Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas. Phelps and his religious clan–consisting of approximately 80 followers, including numerous members of the Phelps extended family–have gained national attention through their high-profile protests at funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq.

The Westboro Baptist Church believes that the United States is being punished due to a tolerance of homosexuality; they have various other beliefs, all of which center around such slogans as “God hates fags” and “God hates America.” The Phelps clan has also demonstrated at funeral services for gay murder victims and for the 12 West Virginia mine workers killed in an accident earlier this year, and planned to protest at the funerals of five Amish children murdered in Pennsylvania in October, 2006.

As one writer put it, the church members “also rejoice in the 9/11 attacks, Hurricane Katrina, the tsunami that devastated Asia two years ago, and AIDS. They believe God hates Santa, Jews, Catholics, Muslims, soldiers, me, and if I had to guess, they probably believe that God hates you.” Apparently Phelps and his followers believe they are the only people whom God doesn’t hate.

The Westboro Baptist Church protests include inflammatory picket signs, name-calling, desecration of the American flag, and an extra helping of Phelps’ hate-filled philosophy. Laws have been enacted across the nation to limit such funeral demonstrations, including federal legislation signed into law in May 2006, but several such measures have been struck down by courts on free speech grounds.

Interestingly, many of the Phelps are attorneys. Patriarch Fred Phelps, Sr., who had a lengthy law career, has been disbarred; eleven of his 13 children are lawyers. More interestingly, six of the Phelps family are or were previously employed by various jails and the Kansas Department of Corrections.

Margie Phelps, an attorney, currently works for the Kansas Dept. of Correction as the agency’s Director of Re-entry Planning; she attends the group’s funeral protests outside of work hours. Her brother, Fred Phelps, Jr., a former parole officer, is a staff attorney with the Kansas DOC. Both Margie and Fred Jr. were previously temporarily suspended from practicing law following disciplinary action. Timothy Phelps is presently employed as a spokesman for the Shawnee County Dept. of Corrections. Lee Ann Phelps and Elizabeth Phelps both formerly held positions with the Shawnee County Sheriff’s Department, while Abigail Phelps, another active participant in the group’s funeral protests, works in the staff development office for Kansas’ Juvenile Justice Authority.

Despite their hate-filled, anti-American ranting outside the workplace, the Phelps’ personal beliefs apparently do not affect their on-the-job performance. Jack Rickerson, director of the state’s human resources department, stated that Margie Phelps’ activities outside of work “violated no state policy.” Kansas DOC Secretary Roger Werholtz was quoted as saying, “I don’t agree with her views,” but said Margie Phelps was “a good employee.” Kansas state Senator Jean Schodorf called the situation an embarrassment, stating that members of the Phelps clan employed in corrections ” kind of flaunt that they work for the state and can’t be terminated” due to civil service protections.

Under the belief that practicing law and acting as an officer of the court are inherently inconsistent with the hate-mongering practiced by members of the Phelps clan, in February 2006, Prison Legal News associate editor ALEX FRIEDMANn filed an ethics complaint against Shirley L. Phelps-Roper. Phelps-Roper, an attorney with the family’s law firm, Phelps Chartered, actively participates in the church’s funeral protests. The state Office of the Disciplinary Administrator, however, refused to file the complaint, stating First Amendment concerns would “preclude a successful investigation and prosecution of the Phelps.” A request for reconsideration of the Disciplinary Administrator’s decision was refused.

Apparently fanatical hate, inflammatory name-calling and intolerance are acceptable practices for attorneys–and prison and jail employees–in the state of Kansas.

ALEX FRIEDMAN writes for Prison Legal News, where this article originally appeared.



More articles by:
Weekend Edition
March 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Michael Uhl
The Tip of the Iceberg: My Lai Fifty Years On
Bruce E. Levine
School Shootings: Who to Listen to Instead of Mainstream Shrinks
Mel Goodman
Caveat Emptor: MSNBC and CNN Use CIA Apologists for False Commentary
Paul Street
The Obama Presidency Gets Some Early High Historiography
Kathy Deacon
Me, My Parents and Red Scares Long Gone
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Rexless Abandon
Andrew Levine
Good Enemies Are Hard To Find: Therefore Worry
Jim Kavanagh
What to Expect From a Trump / Kim Summit
Ron Jacobs
Trump and His Tariffs
Joshua Frank
Drenched in Crude: It’s an Oil Free For All, But That’s Not a New Thing
Gary Leupp
What If There Was No Collusion?
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: Bernard Fall Dies on the Street Without Joy
Robert Fantina
Bad to Worse: Tillerson, Pompeo and Haspel
Brian Cloughley
Be Prepared, Iran, Because They Want to Destroy You
Richard Moser
What is Organizing?
Scott McLarty
Working Americans Need Independent Politics
Rohullah Naderi
American Gun Violence From an Afghan Perspective
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
Why Trump’s Tariff Travesty Will Not Re-Industrialize the US
Ted Rall
Democrats Should Run on Impeachment
Robert Fisk
Will We Ever See Al Jazeera’s Investigation Into the Israel Lobby?
Kristine Mattis
Superunknown: Scientific Integrity Within the Academic and Media Industrial Complexes
John W. Whitehead
Say No to “Hardening” the Schools with Zero Tolerance Policies and Gun-Toting Cops
Edward Hunt
UN: US Attack On Syrian Civilians Violated International Law
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Iraq Outside History
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: The Long Hard Road
Victor Grossman
Germany: New Faces, Old Policies
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
The Iraq Death Toll 15 Years After the US Invasion
Binoy Kampmark
Amazon’s Initiative: Digital Assistants, Home Surveillance and Data
Chuck Collins
Business Leaders Agree: Inequality Hurts The Bottom Line
Jill Richardson
What We Talk About When We Talk About “Free Trade”
Eric Lerner – Jay Arena
A Spark to a Wider Fire: Movement Against Immigrant Detention in New Jersey
Negin Owliaei
Teachers Deserve a Raise: Here’s How to Fund It
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
What to Do at the End of the World? Interview with Climate Crisis Activist, Kevin Hester
Kevin Proescholdt
Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke Attacks America’s Wilderness
Franklin Lamb
Syrian War Crimes Tribunals Around the Corner
Beth Porter
Clean Energy is Calling. Will Your Phone Company Answer?
George Ochenski
Zinke on the Hot Seat Again and Again
Lance Olsen
Somebody’s Going to Extremes
Robert Koehler
Breaking the Ice
Pepe Escobar
The Myth of a Neo-Imperial China
Graham Peebles
Time for Political Change and Unity in Ethiopia
Terry Simons
10 American Myths “Refutiated”*
Thomas Knapp
Some Questions from the Edge of Immortality
Louis Proyect
The 2018 Socially Relevant Film Festival
David Yearsley
Keaton’s “The General” and the Pernicious Myths of the Heroic South