Jan. 24, 2008 -- A fundamentalist church whose members demonstrate at the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq and believe God hates gays will protest the Academy Awards and the funeral of Heath Ledger, because the actor played a gay cowboy in the 2005 film "Brokeback Mountain."
Members of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., are trying to find out where the 28-year-old actor's funeral will be held and have already made signs to hold outside the Oscars that read "God Hates Fags and Fag Enablers," "Heath in Hell" and "Mourn for Your Sins," Shirley Phelps-Roper, daughter of the church's controversial founder Pastor Fred Phelps, told ABCNEWS.com.
Though Ledger was not gay, the church believes he "misused the giant megaphone given to him by God Almighty to speak the truth about fags," Phelps-Roper said, and instead "used his position of prominence to say God is a liar and that homosexuality is not an abomination."
The time and location of the Ledger's funeral remain unknown, but it is widely believed it will take place in the actor's native Australia.
George Amado, the general manager of New York City's Frank E. Campbell funeral home, told The Associated Press that funeral arrangements for the actor are complete and his relatives are expected to arrive in New York City Friday.
He refused to elaborate further, saying, "The family doesn't want us to give out any information."
"They are going to try and hide the body like a bunch of ghouls so we can't protest. The only thing in this country people worship more than filthy sex acts is the dead," Phelps-Roper said.
She said members of the church had already purchased plane tickets to picket outside the Oscars, scheduled for Feb. 24 in Hollywood.
A press release posted to the church's Web site, godhatesfags.com, reads: "Heath Ledger is now in Hell, and has begun serving his eternal sentence there -- besides which, nothing else about Heath Ledger is relevant or consequential."
According to the Web site, the church, founded in 1955, has held more than 34,000 protests. But Phelps-Roper said there are currently only 50 members.
Hate Group, or Religious Freedom?
The Southern Poverty Law Center considers the church a hate group because of its "platform, writings and statements by its leader, which are egregiously anti-gay," said Mark Potok, director of the center's Intelligence Project.
"The group is made up of people who are almost literally out of their minds," Potok said. "In addition to regularly picketing the deaths of American soldiers killed in Iraq, they have picketed the funeral of little girls killed in a school bus crash because they wanted to link the death of children with 'America's sin.'"
Last year a Baltimore jury determined the Westboro Baptist Church was too vulgar and offensive to be covered by the First Amendment. The church was ordered to pay nearly $11 million to Albert Snyder, who brought a suit after the Phelps clan picketed the funeral of his 20-year-old son Matthew, who died while serving in Iraq.
The group routinely uses young children on its picket lines, sometimes giving them signs featuring explicit images to carry.
According to Potok, the only members of the church are Fred Phelps' family members.
"I doubt there is anyone in America who thinks more about gay sex than Fred Phelps," Potok said.
Ledger, 28, was found dead at the foot of his bed in his rented Soho loft Tuesday with several bottles of prescription drugs nearby. A preliminary autopsy completed Wednesday was unable to determine what killed the actor.