Surface    |    Backfill    |    About    |    Contact


Illiberal Sweden

Swede's Sermon On Gays: Bigotry Or Free Speech?

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.

... 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.

... U.S. gay rights groups "are not interested in forcing any churches to do anything they don't want to do theologically," [Lambda Legal executive director Katherine] 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."

The hand-washing response from Lambda, which seems more focused on dismissing US conservatives' concerns than staking out a clear position on Sweden's policy (which is desired by some in the US) is disappointing.

The law can be an important tool for safeguarding the rights of minorities. But there are certain issues on which the law is an inappropriate tool, and speech is the foremost example of that territory. I'll skip over the moral issue, as you've all heard the quote from Voltaire. Pragmatically, a ban on anti-gay speech seems to feed the anti-gay movement. Conservative Christians have constructed an ideology of persecution, telling themselves that they are under assault by both the culture and law of modern society. Laws restricting free speech justify their fears that the "homosexual agenda" is being forced on them. It makes it that much harder to win someone over with arguments when you seem willing to resort to the law not only to enforce the consequences of your belief (e.g. non-discrimination policies) but also to enforce the holding and spreading of your belief. It shows a lack of trust in your arguments and a lack of respect for the rules of discourse.

It's especially strange that Sweden has banned anti-gay speech before it has even instituted full legal equality for homosexuals. It's understandable (though wrongheaded) to ban people from questioning the status quo, as is the case with European bans on pro-Nazi speech. But it's quite another thing to ban speech that would weigh against a proposed reform.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home