Swedish pastor appeals hate conviction

The Associated Press
Thursday, January 20, 2005

STOCKHOLM – A Swedish pastor convicted of spreading hate by denouncing homosexuality in a sermon asked an appeals court Wednesday to overturn his conviction and the 30-day prison sentence he received.

Aake Green, 63, was sentenced to a month in prison in June 2004 under the country’s hate crimes law after he cited Biblical scripture to condemn homosexuality during a church service, calling it “a deep cancer tumor on all of society” and warning that Sweden risked a natural disaster because of its tolerance for gays and lesbians.

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Aake Green’s sermon

Green, who also said AIDS has its roots in homosexuality, was convicted in a district court after the prosecutor, Kjell Yngvesson, argued that Green “expressed disdain for the homosexuals as a group” and compared his sermon to a racist shouting a Nazi salute.

The case has drawn attention in Sweden and abroad with churches, religious groups and free-speech advocates calling Green’s conviction a direct challenge to freedom of speech and religion. During the hearing Wednesday, dozens of demonstrators gathered outside the court, some carrying signs in support of Green, others against him.

“Important principles, such as freedom of religion and freedom of speech, are at stake here,” Ralph Toerner, a priest belonging to the Swedish branch of the British-based Holy Catholic Church, said outside the courthouse in Joenkoeping, 330 kilometers, or 205 miles, southwest of Stockholm.

Green’s lawyer, Percy Bratt, claimed his client was protected by the United Nations’ declaration on human rights.

“This case is not just about Aake Green, but about practitioners of different religions around the world,” he said.

Under Sweden’s hate crimes law, it is illegal to make agitating or inflammatory remarks aimed at a group of people, such as those belonging to a particular race, religion or country. That law was amended in 2003 to include gays and lesbians.

Yngvesson urged the court to uphold Green’s conviction and extend his jail sentence to six months, arguing that his sermon was not protected by freedom of religion.

“Quoting the Bible is allowed, but to gather everything from the Bible that condemns homosexuals and then add in your own condemning opinion is more questionable,” he said.

A verdict is expected Feb. 11.

In an interview with The Associated Press this week, Green said his sermon was not meant to foment agitation toward gays. “I’ve only enlightened people on what the Bible has to say,” Green said, adding that if his appeal is upheld, he will appeal that decision to the Supreme Court. “I don’t think there is a legal basis to convict me.”


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Associated Press, via the International Herald Tribune, France
Jan. 20, 2005
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