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Swede's Sermon on Gays: Bigotry or Free Speech?

On Wednesday last week, about 200 people gathered outside the courthouse in the southern city of Jonkoping to voice support for Green during his first appeal. Many who showed up were homosexuals who said while they disagreed vehemently with what the pastor said, they defended his right to say it.

Inside, prosecutor Kjell Yngvesson argued that Green had "expressed disdain for homosexuals as a group" and that the 30-day jail term should be lengthened.


Ake Green assailed gays.

In Sweden, Green's case has focused particular attention on the government's decision in 2002 to expand the country's longstanding law against hate speech to cover gays and lesbians.

Critics of the prosecution say that while the pastor's words might be hateful and extremist, the law was never intended to cover what a preacher said from the pulpit.

"My view is that one could argue about some words in his preaching, but he should not be put in jail for it," said Mikael Oscarsson, a Christian Democratic member of parliament who met with religious groups in Washington last fall to publicize the case. "As a nation we have signed declarations saying one should have the right to speak and to express oneself," he said. "This law goes against that right."

Not so, say supporters of the law. In their view, the issue is stopping people -- whether or not they are pastors -- from promoting intolerance of gays and lesbians.

"Ake Green is only using his religion to say very bad things about gay and lesbian people as a group," said Soren Andersson, president of the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights.

"If you look at his speech, and take away the word 'gay' and put in the word 'Jew,' you have a different picture.

"I don't think it's okay to say those things about Jews," Andersson said. "But when it comes to gays and lesbians, it's okay? Why? . . . This is about people -- it's about living people who are already treated very badly here."

In the interview, Green said he had nothing personal against homosexuals. "I'm only preaching Christian love," he said. "I'm saying God's words. As a preacher, it's my duty to say what's in the Bible. I have a duty to say if someone is living the wrong way according to the Bible."

He defended his reference to homosexuals as a "cancer," saying, "if you have cancer and don't do something about it, you will die. The same with homosexuality -- it can infect and destroy the whole society."

Green said he felt compelled to speak out after seeing the power of the gay lobby in Swedish society. He said he invited reporters to attend his sermon, and when none showed up, he sent the text to the local newspaper. That's where a local gay organization saw it, and made an official complaint to the police, who called Green and asked for a recording of his sermon. The indictment followed.

Cooperman reported from Washington. Special correspondent Fia Lien contributed to this report.


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