Precinct 333

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Freedom Of Religion And Speech Upheld In Sweden

In an appeal of a case that has been used to point out the danger of hate speech laws, a Swedish pastor has been acquitted of charges of violating Swedish hate speech laws for preaching a sermon which condemned homosexuality.

The appeals court ruled that Sweden's law, which was enacted after World War II to protect Jews and other minorities from neo-Nazi propaganda and was only recently extended to gays, was never intended to stifle open discussion of homosexuality or restrict a pastor's right to preach.

The defendant, the Rev. Ake Green, had a right to preach "the Bible's categorical condemnation of homosexual relations as a sin," the court said, even if that position was "alien to most citizens" and if Green's views could be "strongly questioned," according to news-service translations of the court's ruling.

The prosecution had attracted widespread attention in Europe, where laws restricting speech deemed to incite hatred of specific groups are common. Some conservative Christian groups in the United States have followed the case, saying that similar laws that would restrict speech rights are in the works there.

Now I don't agree with all of Green's words -- in fact, I think he is wrong in his more outrageous statements. But that is irrelevant when one considers the principle involved -- does the government have the right to stifle religious speech, especially a pastor's sermons? Absent an incitement to violence, the answer must be a resounding negative.

Naturally, gay rights activists are outraged.

Gay activists said they were dismayed by the ruling. "I don't think the verdict would have been the same if Ake Green had agitated against Jews or blacks or any other group protected by Swedish law," said Maria Sjodine, manager for the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights. "I really hope this is going to be appealed to the supreme court, and they find him guilty. Otherwise, we are not being treated equally as other groups who are covered by this law."

Actually, Ms. Sjodine, you had better hope that the supreme court rules exactly the same way as the appellate court -- or else the next case brought might be against you and your colleagues for hate speech against Christians with whom you disagree. That is the thing about freedom of speech -- you only have as much as you are willing the other side of the argument.


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