Freedom of Religion on Trial in Sweden
The events that have transpired in Sweden since 2002 have far reaching ramification for the freedom of religion and freedom of speech in countries far beyond the borders of Sweden.
On June 29, 2004, Pastor Ake Green was sentenced to one month in jail for showing “disrespect” against homosexuals in the sermon he delivered from his pulpit in the small town of Borgholm, Sweden on July 20, 2003. The title of his sermon was “Are people born with homosexual orientation or is it the result of influence by evil powers?” Imagine that! A prison sentence for merely preaching the gospel about sin, righteousness and judgment as well as about grace, redemption, forgiveness and restoration! You can read a transcript of his sermon translated into English.
The whole thing actually started in 2002 when the Swedish Parliament enacted a new novel law that criminalized expressions of disrespect (Swedish: “missakting”) against homosexuals. The sentence for violation is up to 2 years in prison for such expressions. If the expression is “especially offensive” (Swedish: “särskillt kränkande”) the sentencing is up to four years in prison. The same law actually also covers groups based on race, color, nationality and ethnic origin and faith. However, expressions of disrespect and offense against such groups are never an issue for people of faith. The Bible does not condemn anyone based on race, color etc. But the Bible does condemn people engaging in homosexuality and other perversions. So when homosexuals were included in the definition of “people groups” the stage was set for confrontation with people who believe the Bible. This was made very clear by the Swedish Prime Minister himself. Just before the law was enacted, he stated publicly, as an example, that under the new law it would be criminal to refer to the homosexual lifestyle as something “unnatural”.
The new criminal law (BRB 16:6 para.8) reads as follows (key words underlined for emphasis):
Notice the following key words in the new law:
The wave of sodomy that has invaded Sweden over the last few decades has been unprecedented. It was therefore of no surprise when the Swedish Parliament granted the homolobby this particular protection against any “disrespectful” and “offensive” message from the pulpit. Sweden is definitely more sodomized than any other country. No other country has allowed special legal protection for homosexuals (against disrespect and offense) to trump the dual doctrines of Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Speech. (For more information on the sordid development that has lead to this please go to www.emaso.org and click under some of the topics on the side bar menu.)
Nowhere was this conflict between the new law and long-held human rights (of freedom of speech and religion) made more apparent than in the final adjudication of the case by the Swedish Supreme Court as discussed below.
So Pastor Green - a pastor who believes in the Bible and feels called to preach the full message of the Bible and how it applies to our society today - was torn between being faithful to his calling and submitting to the new Swedish law. When the case was finally heard before the Swedish Supreme Court, Pastor Green was asked by the Prosecutor (Mr. Johansson) what was the background and why did he deliver this sermon. To which Pastor Green boldly declared:
' Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word of my mouth and give them a warning from me. When I say unto the wicked: Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, not speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his inequity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul. '
What I want to say with this is that I myself have a responsibility as a servant of the Word and then I couldn't only lay it on the shoulders of the leaders of denominations and of the archbishop, but I also have a responsibility according to this scripture to clear my own conscience and to let people know that the way they live is wrong. And then I declare that if they turn around and follow Christ they will not come under judgment. And then I let the people decide if they want to keep their lifestyle of homosexuality or turn around. So, that was the background to the sermon. It was in early 2003 that I started preparations for the sermon."
End of Green's reply.
Soon after his sermon in his small church on July 20, 2003, Pastor Green was predictably sued for “instigation” against a group of people. The case was first heard in Lower Court (“Tingsrätt”) in Kalmar and on June 29, 2004 he was sentenced to serve one month in jail. After first appealing the verdict to the Appellate Court, the case finally made its way to the Swedish Supreme Court where it was heard on November 9, 2005. When the Supreme Court verdict fell on November 29, 2005 Pastor Green was acquitted of all charges against him.
The written adjudication of the case is very insightful and makes it crystal clear how out of step the Swedish judicial system is with the rest of Europe when it comes to the protection of the dual doctrines of Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Speech. In Sweden the special status afforded homosexuals trump freedom of religion and speech, whereas in the rest of Europe the opposite is till true.
For a full copy of the Supreme Court verdict click here. In the middle of the document the Supreme Court reached its conclusion with respect to guilt vis-à-vis the new Swedish law as they declare:
“ÅG has willfully spread these statements in his sermon before the congregation, conscious that they would be perceived as offensive. In the meaning of Chapter 16, Section 8 of the Penal Code, which has been expressed in the motives, the statements must therefore be regarded as having expressed contempt for homosexuals as a group”.
But, due to the Conventions on Human Rights in the European Union (EU), the Swedish Supreme Court had to consider those laws and set aside the Swedish law. Towards the end of the document they write as follows:
“The Supreme Court must, however, now adjudicate whether application of Chapter 16, Section 8 of the Penal Code in the case of ÅG should be set aside because such an application would be in contravention of the Constitution (cf. Decisions of the Swedish Supreme Court NJA 2000 p. 132 and 2005 p. 33) or of the European Convention (cf Bill 1993/94:117 p. 37 f. and Committee Report 1993/94:KU24 p. 17 ff.).”
And the document continues:
In an overall assessment of the circumstances in the light of the practice of the European Court of Human Rights - in the case of ÅG it is clear at the outset that this is not a question of such hateful statements that are usually referred to as hate speech. This also applies to the utterance of his that may be regarded as most far-reaching, where sexual abnormalities are described as a cancerous tumor, since the statement, seen in the light of what he said in connection with his sermon, is not of such a nature as can be regarded as promoting or justifying hatred of homosexuals. The way in which he expressed himself cannot perhaps be said to be so much more derogatory than the words in the Bible passages in question, but may be regarded as far-reaching even taking into account the message he wished to convey to the audience. He made his statements in a sermon before his congregation on a theme that is in the Bible. The question of whether the belief on which he based his statements is legitimate or not is not to be taken into account in the assessment (Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights of 26 September 1996, in the case Manoussakis and Others v Greece, p. 47).
Under such circumstances it is probable that the European Court of Human Rights, when examining the limitation on ÅG’s right to preach his ideas based on the Bible which a verdict of guilty would constitute, would find that the limitation is not proportionate and thereby would constitute a violation of the European Convention.
The expression contempt in the provision on agitation against a national or ethnic group cannot be regarded as having such a distinct meaning that a real conflict of laws arises here between the European Convention and the Penal Code (cf. Committee Report 1993/94:KU24 p. 18 ff.). It certainly follows from what is stated above that according to the preparatory work the intention is that statements of the kind that the Prosecutor-General has cited here in the adjusted statement of the criminal act must be regarded as expressing contempt in the meaning of the provision. One of the reasons for incorporating the European Convention into Swedish law was, however, to create a distinct basis for directly applying the Convention in Swedish courts (see Bill 1993/94:117 p. 33). The Supreme Court has also in several decisions established that it must be possible to deviate from such statements concerning the meaning of a rule of law made in the preparatory work to the law or in case law when this is required under the interpretation of the Convention that is expressed in the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights (see most recent Decisions of the Swedish Supreme Court NJA 2005 p. 462; cf earlier legal cases including NJA 1988 p. 572, 1991 p. 188, 1992 p. 532 and 2003 p. 414). What has been stated implies that the liability provision on agitation against a national or ethnic group in this case should be interpreted more restrictively than indicated by the preparatory work, so that an application in accordance with the Convention will be achieved. As just stated, it may be assumed that such an application in accordance with the Convention would not allow a verdict of guilty against ÅG under the current circumstances in the case.
This specific reason for the acquittal was further emphasized (in layman’s term) in news release to the media. In commenting on the decision, the chairman (Johan Munck) stated that the Swedish Supreme Court had opted to consider earlier verdicts in the Court of the European Union in Strassbourg, France. He said "if Åke Green had been convicted for incitement due to his sermon, then in all probability Sweden would have been rebuked in the European Court".
Mr. Munck further stated in an interview with the Swedish Radio/TV monopoly that it is not possible to apply the law (criminalizing "offense" and "disrespect") "as it was intended". In other words: The Swedish law is not in keeping with international jurisprudence.
Such a statement by the Supreme Court appears so much more remarkable since the law - while still in the proposal stage - was supposedly reviewed by (and approved) by the Swedish "Lagrådet" that reviews all bills in Parliament for conformance with the Swedish Constitution (“grundlag”). And about half of the "Lagrådet" members are made up of Supreme Court Justices. It may be though, that at the time of the review they did not adequately consider that people outside Sweden might have a say on these issues. On top of that, the Supreme Court might very well have felt (without admitting it) that a rebuke in the European Court, combined with their own perversions, might be unacceptably embarrassing to them. So, it can safely be assumed that the Supreme Court very reluctantly had to submit to the EU convention on Human Rights.
But why would the European Court rule against Sweden? Well, it all has to do with the religious history of Europe. For while Sweden and the other countries in Scandinavia (and many in Northern Europe) are Lutheran (Protestant) the rest of Europe (central, southern and eastern) is mainly Catholic (Roman Catholic in central and southern Europe and Greek-Orthodox in eastern Europe). So, whereas the Swedish Archbishop K.G. Hammar and the Swedish Church embrace and welcome homosexuality and bisexuality, the same is not true within the Catholic Church. Thank you Rome for being clear about the Biblical position on this issue!
It should be mentioned that the Swedish Supreme Court itself is corrupted by criminal sodomy that is defended by the Chief Justice himself. Click here for more information.
It therefore could not be made any more clear how far out of step Sweden is with the rest of Europe when it comes to the lack of protection of Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Religion. But who knows. One day large parts of the rest of Europe may become as sodomized as Sweden and try to muzzle the message of the Bible. It’s imperative that this be prevented !
At the hearing before the Supreme Court Pastor Green was asked why he did not believe that a person’s homosexuality was determined at birth. He answered that if such were the case, God would not create some people to be homosexuals and then turn around and condemn it in His word. That would be out of character for God. This is not only theologically correct but science itself shows that homosexuality is not something that’s inherited. For more information about this myth (and two more) go to “Exposing Myths About Sexual Orientation” www.emaso.org and click on Myth 3.