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Åke Green cleared over gay sermon

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10:35 CET+01:00
Åke Green, the Swedish pentecostalist pastor sentenced to one month in prison for a sermon in which he condemned homosexuality has been acquitted by the Supreme Court in Stockholm.

Green, from Borgholm on the Baltic Sea island of Öland, said he felt “relieved” by the verdict, in which he was cleared of the crime of ‘agitation against minority groups’.

“I was prepared for the fact that I could be acquitted, but also that I could be convicted,” he told news agency TT from his church.

Gay right groups have condemned the verdict, saying that it makes a nonsense of the law.

“It is extremely serious when the church is turned into a free zone for agitation,” said Sören Andersson, chairman of gay rights group RFSL.

“We are now going to face increased religious agitation from extreme right-wing Christian groups that use the church as a forum to spread their message of hatred.”

The Christian Democratic Party's leader Göran Hägglund welcomed the verdict, saying that it is not the role of the courts to decide how the Bible should be interpreted.

But Liberal MP Birgitta Rydberg, a Christian, said that Åke 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."

Green said the judgment was important for him and for his fellow preachers.

“We can now feel more free to preach the word of God,” he proclaimed, but said there would be no more sermons from him about homosexuality.

“Everyone knows where I stand on that question,” he said.

In a written judgment, the Supreme Court noted that Green’s comments went beyond what could be considered an objective and sound discussion about gay people. Åke Green deliberately spread the comments in his sermon in the knowledge that they would be seen as offensive.

But the court decided that a conviction would not be upheld by the European Court. Several comparable cases have resulted in acquittals in the European Court, Supreme Court chairman Johan Munck told TT.

“Another reason for the verdict is that the sermon was held in front of his own congregation. Still, I don’t believe that this gives the green light for similar sermons,” Munck said.

When all the circumstances surrounding Green’s comments were taken into account, it is clear that they did not consitute hate speech, the judgment said.

This included the most radical parts of his sermon, in which “sexual abnormalities” were described as a tumour. Seen in the context of the rest of his sermon, they could not be seen to incite or condone hatred towards gay people, the court decided.

Green had said, among other things, that “sexually twisted people will even rape animals”.

Green and his lawyer Percy Bratt argued that these comments were simply a literal interpretation of the Bible.

Prosecutor Stefan Johansson argued that Green had gone much further than the Bible, and had expressed his own views.

Kalmar District Court originally sentenced Green to one month in prison, but the Göta Appeals Court overturned that judgment.

Amina Ek, director of anti-discrimination organisation Centrum mot Rasism, warned that Green’s acquittal could lead to increased racism and homophobia.

“Hate crimes are increasing, especially those targeted against LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual) people,” she said, arguing that it is often the same groups that spread hate propaganda on the internet against Jews, Roma, Muslims and gay people.

RFSL’s Sören Andersson said that the judgment showed the need for the law to be strengthened.

He dismissed those who argued that instead of convicting Åke Green, homophobic opinions should be confronted in debate.

“What you’re forgetting is that RFSL, among others, have been doing this for a long time.”

“Agitation and threats, such as those uttered by Åke Green, limit LGBT people’s rights and opportunities to participate in debate.”

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TT/The Local

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