Funeral protestors’ hate hurts the mourning


If members of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., get their way, friends and family members of the late actor Heath Ledger will be mourning among picket signs claiming Ledger is in hell.

According to an article from Fox News, church members plan to protest his memorial service with picket signs expressing their opinion that Ledger “died and is in hell” because of his decision to play a gay character in the award-winning movie “Brokeback Mountain.”

This particular group has protested nationwide at more than 34,000 funerals, including those of American soldiers killed in the line of duty. They claim these soldiers’ deaths, along with Sept. 11 and Hurricane Katrina, are punishments from an angry God for our nation’s growing tolerance for homosexuality.

An ABC News article quotes protestor Shirley Phelps-Roger saying, “Thank God for 9/11 … we all deserve death in hell, and he has mercifully spared us and it’s time for repentance.”

The article also mentions that a family of a fallen solider won an $11 million lawsuit against the church for its offensive tactics in 2007, but the lawsuit doesn’t seem to be slowing them down.

Margie Cook, director of the LGBT Resource Center, said some community members react to the hateful messages of these protestors by reminding themselves that they do not represent the vast majority of Christians.

“I think [the protestors] can serve as a reminder that hate and bigotry against LGBT people still exist,” Cook said. “Although it’s wonderful that we have progressed to the point where we have a major motion picture like ‘Brokeback Mountain’ that portrayed a gay relationship, that increased visibility in the media doesn’t mean that the problems average LGBT people face have gone away.”

Regardless of one’s opinions of homosexuality, exploiting such a moment of hardship and loss at a funeral for a presumed gain of raising awareness of religious beliefs is highly inappropriate and disrespectful. It’s difficult to understand how this group can justify its actions to themselves and the country. Their messages of extreme hate and prejudice hurt only those mourning the loss of a loved one and do very little to end the spread of tolerance across the nation that they so adamantly oppose.

Senior English major Julie Pattermann thinks the whole thing doesn’t make sense.

“I can never understand how a religious group would rationalize openly discriminating against a group of people,” Pattermann said. “I know that they have their beliefs, but to me, the whole premise of Christianity involves exercising understanding and empathy for all people. Picketing Ledger’s funeral is disrespectful, futile and pointless.”

Father Godwin Asuquo of the Newman Catholic Student Center said the Christian message is that of mercy from God for anyone that is a sinner.

“Therefore, to protest a funeral might go against what Christianity is all about,” Asuquo said.

I support the American right of freedom of speech. I am also whole-heartedly in favor of being able to hold your own opinion and not live in fear of governmental retribution, regardless of how right or wrong I feel that opinion is.

However, when such extreme measures of hate and cruelty are taken, we cannot simply cast it off as a right we have as Americans. There is never an appropriate time for condemning fellow citizens with vulgar hate messages and disrupting a family during a time of grief. I sincerely hope the family and friends of Heath Ledger are able to find a quiet solace from these ridiculous, degrading acts of hate.