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Hate speech legislation in Sweden

Overview, the law is passed, reactions

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Overview:

Sweden passed a constitutional amendment during 2002 which included sexual orientation among a list of groups protected from being attacked by "unfavorable speech." The law protects persons of all sexual orientations equally: heterosexuals, bisexuals gays and lesbians. In practice, it will probably only be used to criminalize verbal attacks on homosexuals and those bisexuals who engage in same-sex behavior.

On 2004-JUN-29, a Pentecostal pastor was convicted of directing hate speech against gays and lesbians during a 2003-JUL-20 sermon in his church. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail by a district court. An appeals court overturned his conviction. However, the prosecutor appealed the case to the Supreme Court and  asked that the pastor be given a sentence of six months, presumably because of the seriousness of the attack. The Supreme Court heard the case in 2006-NOV and overturned the pastor's conviction.

Many in the conservative Christian community in North America were alarmed at this development. They feared that a similar threat might materialize against their personal freedom to engage in religiously motivated hate speech that denigrates gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transsexuals/transgender persons. (GLBT persons). They should not be concerned because the First Amendment in the United States Constitution allows hate speech and even the advocacy of genocide. The Criminal Code of Canada allows religiously-based hate speech attacking people on the basis of their race, color, religion, national origin or sexual orientation. However it restricts the promotion of genocide even if done in a religious context.

2002-MAY: Swedish Parliament gave initial approval to bill:

Sweden's parliament, the Riksdag, narrowly passed, on its first reading, a bill which would criminalize "hate speech" which targeted individuals or groups who fall into certain protected classes. 56% of the members voted in favor of the bill.

It was initially motivated because of problems of hate speech by neo-Nazis against racial and/or religious minorities. Sentences could result in two years in jail. However, the scope of the bill was increased to criminalize hate speech directed against people because of their sexual orientation.

This was generally reported in the conservative Christian media as "criminalizing 'hate speech' against homosexuals." 1 While this is correct, it is only part of the story. In fact, the bill does not mention homosexuals; it only mentions sexual orientation. It would protect heterosexuals, bisexuals and homosexuals equally. However, it would probably be only used to protect gays, lesbians and bisexuals in practice, because hate speech directed against the dominant sexual orientation -- heterosexuality -- is rare.

Unlike the 2004 hate propaganda law in Canada, commonly referred to as C-250, it offers no exclusions for religiously motivated hate speech. The Swedish bill specifically criminalizes hate speech in "church sermons."

Göran Lambertz is the Swedish chancellor of justice in Sweden. One of his tasks is to monitor civil rights in the country. He sent a note to the Riksdag stated that a pastor delivering a sermon in church who stated that homosexual behavior was sinful "might" be considered as having committed a criminal act under this bill. He subsequently told Christianity Today magazine that the bill focused on "dangerous Nazi campaigning," and not on Christian speech. But he stated that:  "The same rules apply everywhere, and I am sure there will be court cases defining [hate speech] also in the religious context."

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Some reactions to the passage of the bill:

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Johan Candelin, a Finnish Lutheran pastor and president of the World Evangelical Alliance's Religious Liberties Commission said:

"The bill clearly violates the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights. If the bill passes, it will place Sweden on level with China, with the state defining which theology is permissible....Europe, still a stronghold of religious freedom, seems about to change directions in an alarming fashion. The churches must awaken to the danger."
 
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Stefan Gustavsson, president of the Swedish Evangelical Alliance predicted that:

"Pastors may fear to be outspoken [on homosexuality] in [the] future ... being tried in court is clearly unpleasant....[It would be] naive to trust the verbal statements made by the chancellor of justice, and others, that the bill does not target Bible-believing churches....The courts rule by written law, not by political comments."
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Sören Andersson, president of Swedish Federation for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights (RFSL) had asked that religiously-motivated speech not be exempt from the legislation as it is in Canada. He said that his group will "report hate speech irrespective of where it occurs."
 

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Pastor Tuve Skanberg of the Swedish Covenant Church, who is also a member of the Christian Democratic party in the Riksdag, said that the: "... vague wording of the bill leaves the courts without guidance as to the intention of the legislator."

He predicted that there is a "real risk" that the courts would consider biblical condemnation of homosexual behavior as within the scope of this bill. 1
 

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Annalie Enochson, a Christian member of the Riksdag told Catholic World News:

"That means people coming from [the homosexual] lobby group could sit in our churches having on the tape recorder and listen to somebody and say, 'What you are saying now is against our constitution'." 2

2002-Fall: Swedish hate speech bill passed:

The Riksdag passed the bill on its second reading. It is now part of the Swedish consitution.  3 It became enforceable on 2003-JAN-1

Site navigation:

Home > Religious laws > Hate speech laws > Sweden > here

Home > Religious hatred... > Conflicts > Hate speech laws > Sweden > here

References used:

  1. Tomas Dixon, "'Hate Speech' Law Could Chill Sermons," Christianity Today, 2002-AUG-5, at: http://www.christianitytoday.com/

  2. Gregory Tomlin, "A Wave of Contempt for God's Word," LifeWay, at: http://www.lifeway.com/

  3. "Hate Crimes Criminalized in Sweden," Danish National Association for Gays and Lesbians, 2003-JAN, at: http://www.steff.suite.dk/

Copyright © 2004 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2004-AUG-12
Latest update: 2009-AUG-11
Author: B.A. Robinson

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