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January 29, 2005

Will Freedom Of Speech And Religion Survive?

Is the prosecution of Sweden's Rev. Ake Green an indication of the direction things are headed in the United States?
One Sunday in the summer of 2003, the Rev. Ake Green, a Pentecostal pastor, stepped into the pulpit of his small church in the southern Swedish village of Borgholm. There, the 63-year-old clergyman delivered a sermon denouncing homosexuality as "a deep cancerous tumor in the entire society" and condemning Sweden's plan to allow gays to form legally recognized partnerships.

"Our country is facing a disaster of great proportions," he told the 75 parishioners at the service. "Sexually twisted people will rape animals," Green declared, and homosexuals "open the door to forbidden areas," such as pedophilia.

With these words, which the local newspaper published at his request, Green ran afoul of Sweden's strict laws against hate speech. He was indicted, convicted and sentenced to 30 days in jail. He remains free pending appeal.

I don't know that I completely agree with Green. i don't know that I would have preached that sermon. And I certainly don't think I would have sent it to the paper. But if I had, no government has any place questioning or punishing those words. And I hold that to be true as a matter of principle, regardless of whether we are talking about the US, Sweden, or any other country on Earth. It is an inalienable human right to hold to one's religious faith, to speak about it, and to write upon it.

Why am I writing about this case? Because I believe that there exist those within this country working to bring about such laws and prosecutions here. They are succeeding in stripping away the right of Christians to speak out against homosexuality in Canada. This will spread to the United States if not checked now. And I say that despite the protests to the contrary by some gay leaders.

Kevin Cathcart, executive director of the gay rights group Lambda Legal, said that religious conservatives in the United States were "trying to twist" the Green case to their advantage, but that it was "not relevant to any actual debate about gay civil rights or the role of religion in the United States."

U.S. gay rights groups "are not interested in forcing any churches to do anything they don't want to do theologically," Cathcart said. Evangelical Christians who think Green's case is what the future holds for them "may be right," he said, "but only if they move to Sweden."

Cathcart is exactly wrong. We've seen courts (including the Supreme COurt) begin to cite the paractices and laws of other countries in their decisions. Rather than relying on the clear words of the Constitution and the historic practices of the US, such decisions take a more expansive view by examining foreign trends when interpreting that document. One recent example, as Cathcart no doubt knows, was none other than Lawrence v. Texas, the sodomy case decided just two years ago, that overturned over two centuries of American laws and jurisprudence. Why should we not be concerned that some future court will see fit to apply the more "sensitive" views of post-Christian European socialism to sharply limit our rights under the First Amendment? We've already seen a prosecutor in Philadelphia argue that quoting Biblical condemnations of homosexuality in public constitutes hate speech as he argued against dismissing felony charges against Christians arrested while protesting a gay pride event.

So while I may not agree with Rev. Green, I support his right to speak out boldly in preaching the Word of God. If I don't, it will only be a matter of time before such restrictions spread to this country.





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