As the death of Heath Ledger continues to shock fans and Hollywood, it is being seen in a far different light by an already infamous group. The Westboro Baptist Church of Kansas, run by the Reverend Fred Phelps plans to picket Ledger’s funeral because of his role in the gay love story “Brokeback Mountain” according to FOX News. Phelps and his church have gained scorn from many because of their extreme anti-gay messages, and their previous pickets of the funerals of dead U.S soldiers. If Phelps’ church indeed shows up outside Ledger’s funeral, it will merely be another addition to their list of controversial actions involving funerals, and their message.
The Westboro Church has claimed that “God Hates Fags” and that the death of U.S soldiers are God’s punishment to the U.S for enabling homosexuality. Phelps picketed the funeral of Al Gore’s father in 1998, saying that Gore “sold his soul to the fag agenda.” A year earlier, Phelps and his congregation picketed the Clinton Inaugural Ball. Phelps’s protests of the Gore family stood in contrast to the 1980’s, where he was a supporter of Gore in the 1988 Democratic primary election. He also supported Gore in 1992 before renouncing him during the Clinton Administration.
In the early 90’s, the church began to make news by protesting the funerals of AIDS victims. In 1998, the church gained national coverage when it picketed the funeral of Matthew Shepard, the Wyoming youngster murdered for being gay. As a result, a subsequent play made about the murder, “The Laramie Project,” made Phelps a character in the story and portrayed him negatively. Phelps responded by having his church picket every performance of the play that he could find, and his group also picketed the offices of HBO when the network adapted the play into a made for cable movie. During that time, the church began to spread their message on the Internet, starting up their official website that shares the title of the church’s slogan “God Hates Fags.”
Phelps’s followers protested at military funerals to such an extent that Congress had to pass a bill in response. In 2006, President Bush signed the “Respect for America’s Fallen Heroes Act” to bar protests within 300 feet of a national cemetery, an issue that had been risen up due to the public outcry against the church’s protests and remarks. Phelps argued that the law restricted the First Amendment rights of himself, and his church
In addition to protesting at military funerals, the church picketed the funerals of figures like Frank Sinatra, Barry Goldwater, William Rehnquist, Coretta Scott King, and Mr. Rogers. Phelps has expressed support for the 9/11 attacks, Fidel Castro, and Saddam Hussein in the past. Phelps was also a Democratic contender for the governorship of Kansas three times in the 1990’s, losing each time.
FOXNews.com: “Kansas Baptist Church Plans to Picket Heath Ledger’s Funeral” http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,324966,00.html
Wikipedia: Fred Phelps http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fred_Phelps
Mother Jones: “The Man Who Loves to Hate” http://www.motherjones.com/news/feature/1999/03/lauerman.html
Washington Post: “Bush Says U.S Must Honor War Dead” www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/05/30/AR2006053000134.html
FrontPageMag.com: “The ‘God Hates Fags’ Left” www.frontpagemag.com/Articles/Read.aspx
Westboro Baptist Church Home Page: http://www.godhatesfags.com/