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Hate speech legislation in Sweden

Comment. Conviction overturned.
Could this conviction happen here?

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Comment by a Southern Baptist leader:

During 2004-AUG, R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY discussed Green's case. He linked Green's conviction in Sweden to changes in hate speech laws in Canada. He said:

"The recent expansion of hate crimes laws in Canada, intended to outlaw all criticism of homosexuality, is convincing proof that these trends are not limited to Europe."

He appears to be confusing hate crime laws, which involve physical assault, with hate speech laws, which involve hate-filled statements and written material.

The Canadian law is not "intended to outlaw all criticism of homosexuality." He may not have been aware that Canadian hate crime law has an exemption for religious speech, while the Swedish law does not. This allows anyone in Canada to verbally attack sexual minorities if it is done from a religious perspective.

Swedish Supreme Court clears Green:

In a unanimous 5 to 0 ruling, the Swedish Supreme Court cleared Åke Green of the charge that he committed a hate crime.

Per Karlsson, a member of the Swedish bar and adviser to Pastor Green, speculated that the court chose not to view his sermon as hate speech, because the European Court for Human Rights would probably have overturned Green's conviction and sentence. Karlsson said:

"What the court looked into in this case was not really whether he incited hate and violence, but whether he was showing contempt to a group. Even though he was using strong language, and he, in a sense, crossed the line in accordance with the Swedish Criminal Provision (criminal law), the court decided the Swedish Criminal Provision could not be applied because that would be violating the European Convention on Human Rights.....People are saying that this amendment is useless, and therefore they want to change the law. But I don't think they will be successful in that."

In reaction to the ruling:

bullet

Liberal Member of Parliament Birgitta Rydberg said that she believed Green "... would probably go to Hell when he dies....That's where you go if you call yourself a Christian and defy the Christian message of love."
 

bullet According to CitizenLink, an information source supplied by the fundamentalist group Focus on the Family, Goran Hagglund, the leader of Sweden's Christian Democratic Party, "praised the court for its verdict, saying that it's not the role of the courts to interpret the Bible."
 
bullet Some members of Swedish gay-positive groups indicated they may seek a tougher law in shutting down "hate speech."
 
bullet Benjamin Bull, chief counsel of the Alliance Defense Fund -- a fundamentalist Christian legal group, called the decision:

".....a huge victory for religious liberty everywhere....Voicing one's conscience is a fundamental human right. In this contest between religious freedom and the radical homosexual agenda, religious freedom prevailed. We can only hope this will deter other attempts to censor Christian ministers from delivering Bible-based messages against harmful homosexual conduct." 1

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Could this prosecution have happened in North America?

The conviction occurred a few months after an amendment to Canada's hate propaganda bill -- C-250 -- became law. However, that law has a specific clause exempting hate propaganda speech if motivated by religion. C-250 and the law under which Green was prosecuted are frequently linked in conservative Christian information sources. However, it is important to realize that Green could not have been prosecuted in Canada under C-250. A person in a religious setting is allowed to viciously attack, targeting them on the basis of their sexual orientation, religion, race, skin color, or national origin, etc.  They perpetrators are immune from prosecution. 2

Green could not have been prosecuted in the U.S. either. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees almost complete freedom of speech to everyone -- including hate speech.

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References used:

  1. Pete Winn, "Swedish Court Acquits Pastor Åke Green," Citizen Link, Focus on the Family, 2005-NOV-29, at: http://www.family.org/

  2. "Hate propaganda: Advocating genocide," Criminal Code of Canada, at: http://laws.justice.gc.ca/

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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