- The Washington Times - Friday, February 11, 2005

STOCKHOLM — An appeals court yesterday overturned the hate crimes conviction of a Swedish pastor who in a sermon had branded homosexuals a “cancer.”

The Goeta Appeals Court said that while the Rev. Aake Green’s views of homosexuals can be “strongly questioned,” it was not illegal to offer a personal interpretation of the Bible and urge others to follow it.

“The purpose of making agitation against gays punishable is not to prevent arguments or discussions about homosexuality, not in churches or in other parts of society,” the court said.

Mr. Green, 63, was the first clergyman convicted under Sweden’s tough hate crimes laws, which make it a crime to make inflammatory remarks against racial, religious or national groups. The laws were revised in 2003 to include homosexuals.

Mr. Green said he was pleased with the verdict, but called it a “partial victory,” saying he expects the case to move on to the Supreme Court.

“We’ll see how far this gets me,” he said. “But right now I’m very happy.”

Mr. Green told a congregation on the small southeastern island of Oeland in 2003 that homosexuals were “a deep cancer tumor on all of society.” He warned congregants that Sweden risked a natural disaster because of its leniency toward homosexuals.

“Homosexuality is something sick,” Mr. Green said. He compared it with pedophilia and bestiality, saying homosexuals were more likely to rape children and animals.

He was convicted in June and sentenced to 30 days in jail, but the sentence was suspended pending the appeal.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Mr. Green said it was not the month in jail that worried him, but “the freedom to preach God’s word.”

The appeals court shared that concern, saying statements during sermons rarely qualify as racial agitation.

Mr. Green’s acquittal brought a sigh of relief from some ministers who saw the case as a challenge to freedom of religion and expression.

“This indicates that the justice system works, and that it gives a certain amount of protection to us who preach God’s word,” said the Rev. Ralph Toerner, a priest from the Swedish branch of the Britain-based Holy Catholic Church.

“But at the same time, I think this should be a warning signal to preachers overall, that they shouldn’t use such coarse language when talking about something sensitive. The Christian faith is not about judging people,” he said.

Mr. Green said he was being bombarded by phone calls from supporters yesterday.

“They’re calling from the United States and from Sweden,” he said. “They’re calling on every phone they can. I’m feeling massive support over this.”

Others were angry over the acquittal, saying it was an invitation to attack homosexuals and other groups.

“Would we have seen this verdict if his sermon had been about Jews or some other group? I hope not,” said Katarina Lindahl, secretary-general of the Swedish Association for Sexuality Education.

Hans Ytterberg, the government-appointed ombudsman against discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, said he also disagreed with the verdict, and criticized the court for saying Mr. Green’s rhetoric wasn’t harsh enough to be criminal.


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