My previous post, devoted to the Westboro Baptist Church’s bizarre interpretation of the Indian ocean disaster, refers to a case in Sweden in which a Pentecostal Minister was charged with the criminal offence of hate speech against gays and lesbians for a sermon preached in his own church. I had trouble getting a clear factual story on the Web, because most of the Web sites that mention it are either devoted to the interests of religious groups, or devoted to gay pride issues. Each side has its own stories and both contain mistakes and legal inaccuracies. The coverage in the online edition of Christianity Today was clear and informative. It also played a minor part in a story about the cultural war between religion and liberalism in Europe in Time Magazine.
Ake Green, a Pentecostal Minister was convicted of hate speech against homosexuals under a Swedish statute. It appears that he courted publicity by having his sermon published in a newspaper. It appears that the sermon had many quotes from the Bible, some of which seem to call for violent punishments for sin. If taken literally, those comments could call on Christians to act violently towards homosexual sinners. The Time Magazine story mentions that the conviction is under appeal, with the appeal scheduled to be heard in January 2005. This case could go on for a while, first in the Swedish Courts, and then in the European Community courts.
The Swedish statute was enacted in 2002 and it was an extension of existing hate speech laws to protect sexual orientation – in practical terms to protect homosexuals. The text of the law isn’t clear on the Web but news coverage suggests that it explicitly covers church sermons. The prosecutor proceeded on the tape-recorded text of the sermon rather than on anything said in or to a newspaper. It is not clear if the law is aimed at speech that incites violence or how it defines hate speech. Gay spokespersons were quoted as finding any criticism of their values to be offensive.
It is a test of freedom of speech and freedom of religion, and it presents an interesting counterpoint to the Behzti story, which I posted about a day ago. In England, multiculturally sensitive politicians and conservative religious groups have banded together to demand a law prohibiting hate speech against religion. In Sweden, conservative religious groups are challenged a law that prevents hate speech against homosexuals. In both countries, the laws are supposed to attack “hate speech” but the protected groups think that criticism is hateful.
On the one hand, there is a pleasing symmetry in the idea that hate speech by liberals against religious conservatives should be treated the same as hate speech by religious and social conservatives against groups with liberal sexual preferences. On the other hand, perhaps we are all better off realizing that people are self-centered about their own values and not particularly comfortable with other peoples’ values. Tolerance is difficult, and uncritical respect is impossible. We have to tolerate other peoples’ disinterest and disrespect. We can’t demand uncritical acceptance.