The Phelps family and the Westboro Baptist Church are known for being among the most anti-gay activists in the country. They protest everything from college campuses to soldier’s funerals, holding signs that say “God Hates Fags.” One of the church’s members, Margie Phelps, Fred Phelps’ daughter, is no different: she consistently protests with her family.
Starting last week, Margie Phelps took a leave from her day job (more on that in a second) to represent the family before the U.S. Supreme Court. She’s defending her family and the question over their right to protest at the funerals of U.S. soldiers.
The biggest problem I have with Margie Phelps is not her involvement with Westboro Baptist Church, but how this involvement and her beliefs conflict with her job. When she isn’t out protesting, she holds a job as a corrections officer at the Kansas Department of Corrections. That’s right, a homophobic Phelps family member has a job helping prisoners get out of jail.
Why is this a problem? Considering that LGBT inmates are subjected to alarmingly high rates of sexual assault and rape, everyone working at a prison should be willing to fight against discrimination that harms LGBT inmates.
But would Margie Phelps be willing to help LGBT inmates? Would they get the same respect and support as straight inmates? She’s the director of the department that coordinates prisoners’ release and helps to ex-inmates get job training and housing. What happens when she’s responsible for deciding whether or not an LGBT prisoner should be released?
According to Ken Upton, an attorney at Lambda Legal, “The First Amendment permits people to have private speech outside their jobs without being penalized. It is an interesting question: When do you cross the line in your private speech in a way that undermines your job?”
While Upton is right that Margie Phelps is allowed her free speech, one has to wonder whether her beliefs impede her ability to do her job.
Photo credit: k763