Last Tuesday, 28-year-old Heathcliff Andrew Ledger was found dead in his New York apartment. Several sources have speculated that the cause of his death was a lethal mix of prescription sleeping pills and narcotics. The sudden death of a young actor and father left many people in the nation shocked, as his rugged good looks and unique talent captured the hearts of many women and men around the globe. As the general public mourns the loss of an iconic actor, most notably known for his Oscar-nominated role in “Brokeback Mountain,” a radical Baptist church in Kansas is planning to picket his funeral.
The Westboro Baptist Church will come in hoards, with signs claiming that “God hates fags” and the opinion that Ledger is burning in Hell because of his portrayal as a gay man. This church also runs the website www.godhatesfags.com, and has frequently picketed funerals of soldiers who perished in Iraq, arguing that Americans are dying for a country that encourages homosexuality. As an open-minded person, I respect everybody’s right to individual opinion and religion.
What I do not respect is the horribly offensive, blatant disregard to Ledger’s family and friends during their most heart-wrenching personal mourning. A funeral is not a place for picketing, protest or conflict. A funeral is a somber event, perhaps one of the most painful events surrounding a person’s passing. There is absolutely no sound reason or moral obligation for the Westboro Baptist Church to invade anybody’s funeral with their messages of hate.
Religious people might wonder why extreme worship is so often poked fun at, and the answer comes from the hateful, fanatical people who spread their message of God’s supposed love through offensive acts- like picketing an actor’s funeral because of his choice in roles.
Heath Ledger was an actor who portrayed a gay man, but he was a person.
He had a 2-year-old daughter, and a family that cared about him. These people are not just Hollywood casualties or the leftovers of a great tabloid story. They are real people with emotions, who are most likely suffering excruciating grief.
I cannot even begin to express my anger that any group of people, no matter what religious affiliation they are, would think it morally sound to protest at somebody’s funeral. America clashes over opinions, and it’s rightfully so that we are allowed to argue about them.
We are lucky to have the opportunity to express our beliefs in loud, unabashed ways, but I think there is a time and place for everything. If you want to picket homosexuality, the funeral of a heterosexual actor who played a gay man is not the place to do so. A funeral is not a place for any kind of picketing, no matter what the cause.
Living in a politically charged country, people seem to forget that there are common practices and procedures in life that should be gone about with courtesy. Think about any person in your life, and something they may have done that could be considered “controversial” by certain groups. Was it OK for PETA to picket Colonel Sander’s funeral because he was the creator of KFC and may have raised and slaughtered chickens in an inhumane way? Would you endorse picketing at a CSUN public safety officer’s funeral because there is not enough on-campus parking?
Although I disagree vehemently with Westboro Baptist Church’s opinion about homosexuality in general, I respect their rights to their opinions. Yet, like a stubborn line of ants, they seem to show up at inopportune times, and are resistant to acts of decency and polite requests to leave. This organizations owns several other websites, including www.godhatesamerica.com, and others that include the condemnation of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, Muslims, Roman Catholics and Jews. They have been classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center and are monitored by the Anti-Defamation league.
Given that the Westboro Baptist Church has gone to such extreme measures to inform people of their religious beliefs, it’s safe to say that their goals are to change the moral fiber of America. Unfortunately, America will never be a perfect place. This country is too full of diversity, opportunity and joy to ever be controlled by one supreme religion-especially one that touts God’s redeeming powers but tries to influence through hate.
For all of the people that will be picketing Heath Ledger’s funeral, I have one thing to say-shame on you. I understand if you were offended by his role in “Brokeback Mountain.” I understand if you think he was just another drug addict, fueled by excess time and money. I even understand if you think he was just a bad actor. But, I cannot understand why you think it’s ok to show up at somebody’s funeral and denounce the meaning of their life.
There is no doubt that some people will support the picketers at Ledger’s funeral. They have likely supported things like this in the past. Place aside your opinions of homosexuality, race, religion and politics for just an instant and consider the thought of your own family. Imagine obnoxious protestors standing by your weary and mourning family, spouting their opinions that your deceased loved one is rotting in Hell.
It probably doesn’t feel too nice, and in the end, it doesn’t even matter what they’re protesting about. What matters is the fact that a person you love very much is being remembered, and this is your last time to say goodbye. Who would ever want to ruin a moment like that?