Finding the Heath Ledger angle
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Finding the Heath Ledger angle

At times, the most challenging (or lamest, depending on your take) aspects of my job is trying to find the Jewish angle in the story that everyone is talking about. So, for example, for the past few days, Heath Ledger’s death has been a huge story.

Maybe it’s because my brain is too wrapped up in election coverage, but I’ve come up with nothing.

But then I received the following press release, and a news brief was born:

Heath Ledger’s Funeral Is No Place For Bigots

New York, NY, January 24, 2008 … The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), responding to the Westboro Baptist Church’s plan to turn Heath Ledger’s death into a homophobic spectacle, said the actor’s funeral “should be no place for haters, and especially a gay basher like Fred Phelps.”

Phelps and his virulently homophobic church have vowed to picket the actor’s funeral, objecting to what they view as the actor’s support of homosexuality through his starring role in the film “Brokeback Mountain.” It is a time-honored strategy for Phelps, a notorious hater who uses high-profile funerals as a means to promote his unique brand of bigotry to the masses.

“It is time to say to Fred Phelps and his ilk, enough is enough,” said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director. “Heath Ledger’s funeral should be no place for haters, and especially a gay basher like Fred Phelps. It is outrageous that the Westboro Baptist Church would attempt to turn the untimely and sad death of a Hollywood celebrity into a homophobic spectacle.”

Since the summer of 2005, the Topeka, Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church has picketed the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan with placards reading “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.” Phelps believes that the soldiers represent a nation tolerant of homosexuality, and their deaths are God’s punishment for their sins. The group also routinely rails against Jews, Catholics and other minority faiths.

In October 2007, a federal court ordered the group to pay $11 million to the father of a slain Marine after it was found guilty of violating a right to privacy and inflicting intentional emotional distress.

Members of the WBC first gained national notoriety when they appeared at the funeral of gay murder victim Matthew Shepard bearing signs reading “No Fags in Heaven” and “God Hates Fags.”