The claim: Pastor Ake Green of Sweden was sentenced to prison for preaching against homosexuality.
What are Christian groups saying?
Certain Christian political groups use Pastor Green's sentencing as proof that people must fight hate crime laws in the United States. Often these groups urge that Christians sign petitions with the concern raised that we don’t want to happen here what happened in Sweden to Pastor Ake Green. There are also attempts to compare hate speech laws in Sweden with proposed hate crime laws in the United States. Other groups claim that Ake Green was sent to prison or is in prison.
Ake Green in prison .. Sweden laws are like proposed bills…link
Ake Green in Prison…frombBook: 'The Criminalization of Christianity' by Janet Folger
Ake Green sentenced to prison... Link from web archive see about halfway down page .. Note:
Ake Green sentenced to prison .. Focus Petition (archived page..note Ake Green is mentioned in the audio message)
What really happened?
A little history / government lesson is in order here.
First of al,l countries like Sweden, Canada and Australia are NOT like the United States. They do not have a first amendment guaranteeing free speech like we do.
Secondly, the law in Sweden is a hate speech law which is entirely different than a hate crimes law such as what is being proposed in the United States. Sweden’s hate speech law’s original intent was to prevent the formation of neo-nazi groups after WWII. This is perfectly understandable considering the cultural climate of Europe and the horror of the holocaust. Gay activists did add sexual orientation to it somewhere in 2003.
So what happened to Pastor Ake Green who preached this sermon in 2003? Did he go to jail? What did he preach?
First of all, if you read Pastor Ake Green’s sermon (see reference) you will see that he openly invited the media to hear him preach on homosexuality. In other words he was not innocently preaching and got targeted. He made himself a target. Read it for yourself in his sermon. Additionally when his sermon was not well attended he had it put in the local paper (link). So it was made available to the public. See references below...
Secondly though he was sentenced to thirty days in prison he did not go to prison. He appealed the sentence and the sentence was suspended and subsequently overturned. He never spent any time in jail.. The appeals court overturned the sentence saying that the law was ‘never intended to stifle open discussion of homosexuality or restrict a pastor's right to preach.’ ( see link) When it was further appealed to the Sweden Supreme Court they affirmed the lower court's overturn.. This establishes legal precedent for Sweden. See this article that talks about it being a test case.
Thirdly, while the content of his sermon was technically accurate it also uses the (sadly) standard Christian trick of connecting homosexuality to bestiality and pedophilia. While one might get some justification for this from a loose read of Leviticus 20 I doubt very much that a pastor would compare adultery (which is also listed in Leviticus 20) with bestiality or pedophilia. Nor have I ever heard a pastor preach that having sex with a woman during her period (also in Leviticus 20) is comparable with bestiality or pedophilia. The same goes for preaching on fornication or sex before marriage which is prohibited in other places in the bible..
Fourthly, Christian political group leaders know how this case turned out. Quoting from the news article: “The acquittal was called a victory for human rights and religious freedom by James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family. “Pastors across that country can now exercise their human rights, without fear of going to prison for transgressing the hate-crimes law used to prosecute Pastor Green,” he said”. See this reference from 2005. If he knows that there was a victory (2005) even in a country that does not celebrate free speech like the US, then why does he say the opposite on his web site in 2007? (see link Mote: reference to Ake Green is in the audio) (Note: Most other Christian political groups also use it as a ploy to oppose hate crime bills in 2007).
As I have said before, these bills, HR1592 and S1105 do not criminalize speech. The Sweden case which is used to support such a position actually proves the opposite. A pastor was sentenced to prison over what he preached but the sentence got overturned (we won). Ake Green himself claims that now he and his fellow pastors can safely preach against homosexuality.
And finally.. in further confirmation of the far reaching effect of the Sweden Supreme Court's verdict here is a case that followed Green’s case. (link) The case involved four men who were distributing anti-gay fliers outside a school. The last paragraph of the linked story states.. "The court noted that the flyers contained such gross attacks on gay people that they constituted a crime under Swedish law, but citing the Green verdict the court noted that the Supreme Court had given precedence to European rules on freedom of speech.
What is my take on this?
The fact that certain groups pushed this case to the Supreme Court show that there are those out there who would like to stop this kind of sermon from occurring. The overturn of the case shows that even in a country like Sweden that does not (to my knowledge) have any exemption for religious speech like Canada, anti-gay religious speech is still protected.
I think it was wrong that he would be charged and I rejoice with Christians everywhere that the case was overturned.
The Supreme court’s ruling established precedent making Sweden ‘safe’ for preaching against homosexuality. The case that followed his shows that precedent in action. Additionally I have heard no reports of any new cases In Sweden against people speaking against homosexuality. But you would never know that this precedent was set by what certain Christian’s groups are saying.
So…. sadly …. I am once again disappointed by the spin that has been put on this story. I shudder to think how many Christians have heard this story and think that Ake Green is in jail or is spending time in jail. I also wonder how many have mindlessly followed the false idea that Sweden’s laws are anything like what is proposed in the United States. And I must wonder how many know the legal precedent that was set in Sweden by this case that actually protects free speech. Thus if what happened to Ake Green of Sweden happens here in the U.S. (a country that practically enshrines free speech) pastors will be ‘safe’.
I am NOT seeing a cause for alarm over hate crime laws in America
What I wish had happened.... (Updated 2015)
I wish the Christian groups that were involved in this had not tried to confuse Sweden's hate speech laws with our hate crime laws. I wish they had used their knowledge and expertise to explain the differences in these two countries (Sweden and the U.S.) I wish I had been given all of Ake Green sermon so I could have determined if it was something I could support or not. I wish I had been told the outcome ... including the reality that Ake Green wrote this sermon to test the law (see Sweden Supreme Court ruling) and that Sweden now allows this kind of speech. I wish a so called victory had not been turned into a doomsday scenario. I wish we would have been given all the information so we could make our own prayerfully informed decisions.
labeled homosexuality "a deep cancerous tumor in the entire society" and equated it with pedophilia.
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.