Free Speech in Sweden

Last Tuesday, Högsta domstolen, the Swedish Supreme Court, acquitted the Lutheran pastor Åke Green, who had been prosecuted on charges of inciting hatred towards gays. Two years ago, in a sermon entitled “Is Homosexuality Genetic or an Evil Force that Plays Mind Games with People?” Green said: “Sexual abnormalities are a deep cancerous tumor in the whole of society.” He added that “sexually twisted people” rape animals and children and opined that homosexuality was not something one was born into, but rather the result of choice.

Green held the sermon on July 20, 2003, in a small church in Borgholm, on the island of Öland, for a congregation of barely 50 people. He ended his sermon with the words “What these people need, who live under the slavery of sexual immorality, is abundant grace. We cannot condemn these people. Jesus never belittled anyone. He offered them grace.” The pastor was taken to court on the basis of Sweden’s hate speech law. On 29 June 2004, the Kalmar district court sentenced the pastor to one month of imprisonment. The court stated that “the right of homosexuals to be protected from such language outweighs the right to make homophobic statements in the name of religion.”

Green appealed to the Göta hovrätt in Jönköping, which overturned the sentence on Februari 11, whereupon Sweden’s chief prosecutor appealed to the Supreme Court in Stockholm. There was so much public interest in the case in Sweden that audio from the hearings was broadcast live on Swedish television. There was also much international interest. The Slovakian government said it was worried about people in Sweden being “jailed for saying what they think.” An American organisation, the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), sent a lawyer to assist Green’s trial counsel. If the pastor had been found guilty, he could have been sentenced to two years in jail.

In its verdict [pdf], Högsta domstolen writes that the Council of Europe’s (COE) Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms [pdf], which guarantees freedom of religion and freedom of speech in its articles 9 and 10, has precedence over Swedish law. Sweden’s “hate speech” legislation was amended two years ago to include homosexuals. Nevertheless, Högsta domstolen states that, though Åke Green’s opinion may be repulsive, no hate crime is committed when a pastor in a sermon before his own congregation voices his opinion about the Bible’s position on homosexuality.

Many lawyers point out that the most important judicial aspect of the Åke Green ruling is that Högsta domstolen explicitly based its ruling on the anticipation of how the COE’s European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) would have ruled if the case would had brought before it. They say this proves that Swedish legislation has been sidestepped by the court in favour of international legislation. Gay activists are using the same argument, saying that the 2003 hate crime amendment has been ignored by Högsta domstolen.

lawful expression

Of course, even totalitarian countries have laws and courts. One difference is that in those countries the laws are applied unequally to the enemies of the system.
I wonder: in Sweden, are sermons spoken in mosques examined with the same degree of scrutiny? Are the laws applied just as forcefully to them?
Perhaps we need to move Sweden from the list of free countries to the list of unenlightened police states.