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Church plans to protest Ledger’s memorial

The radical Baptist church known for picketing the funerals of American soldiers who lost their lives in Iraq has announced that they intend to protest Heath Ledger’s stateside memorial service because he played a gay character in “Brokeback Mountain.”

“You cannot live in defiance of God. He (Ledger) got on that big screen with a big, fat message: God is a liar and it's OK to be gay,” said Shirley Phelps in a statement sent out by the Topeka, Kan.-based Westboro Baptist Church.

The only compelling reason to ignore Westboro Baptist’s reprehensible intentions is that highlighting the vast inappropriateness of their thoughts and actions only brings the church more publicity. However, if the members of Westboro Baptist get to speak their minds, every individual who feels that this is an affront to most basic standards of human ethics should be able to as well.

“Wow, that should make his family feel great,” one person close to Ledger said angrily in response to the announcement. “I seriously don’t understand what is wrong with people. This is the last thing his family needs.”

The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) told me, “We sincerely hope that Heath Ledger is laid to rest and his family is allowed to grieve in a private and peaceful ceremony.”

On Jan. 22, GLAAD said that “Heath Ledger will forever be remembered for his groundbreaking role as Ennis del Mar in ‘Brokeback Mountain.’ His powerful portrayal changed hearts and minds in immeasurable ways.” Those close to Ledger agree. But moreover, those close to him want Ledger to be remembered as a man who loved his family and appreciated the career he’d had.

To be fair, the people of the Westboro Baptist Church aren’t the only ones displaying poor taste. Fox News’ John Gibson on Jan. 22 opened his radio show with funeral music and mocked a signature line from “Brokeback,” saying, “Well, he found out how to quit you.” (When Gibson was contacted to explain his comments, he declined.)

Enough is enough. It’s time to move past personal opinion and far-right-wing reactionaries and at the very least, show respect for a family that’s coping with a terrible loss.

This column will begin moving forward Friday, but the impact of a Heath Ledger — a great actor, respected friend and doting dad — will not be forgotten.

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