Yawning Bread. October 2007

Ake Green and the freedom to monger hate


    

 

 

Recently, Derek Hong, a pastor with the Church of our Saviour, well known to be one of the most virulently anti-gay churches in Singapore, told his audience that gays and lesbians "want to silence all parties, especially ... religious institutions."

He said, "the gay activists, the gay activist lobby is actually being used by Satan to undermine the gospel and the word of God, the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and the word of God."

"Recently in Hong Kong -- some of you may have come across this and of course some time back in Canada -- some people wanted the Bible to be banned as hate literature because of the passages that condemns homosexual practice."

I was a little disappointed that he didn't mention the celebrated case from Sweden where things went further than "some people want", where a clergyman was in fact prosecuted in court. Wouldn't that be a far better example to rouse good Christian folks with?


Ake Green outside his little church
 

After all, isn't Scandinavia well known for its radical liberalism?

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Ake Green (pronounced like Ocker Grey-en) was a 63-year-old Pentecostal pastor in the tiny town of Borgholm (pop ca. 3,000) on 20 July 2003 when he delivered a sermon titled "Are people born with homosexual orientation or is it the result of influence by evil powers?"

It was no ordinary sermon, for he contacted the media beforehand in the hope of getting them to cover it. The prosecution would later argue that this showed that his intent went beyond preaching a religion to inflaming popular opinion against a target group.

Despite Green's efforts, the media didn't show up. As he himself complained aloud to the congregation that Sunday morning:

I contacted the Barometer [newspaper] and said: "I am going to preach on this subject. You're welcome [to attend]." Not a response, nothing. I called the TV station and said the same thing: "Do you want to come on Sunday morning, because then I'm going to preach on this burning subject?"

"Yes, we probably have some time," they said. I called on Monday, but nobody responded. They simply let this one pass. They do not want to deal with it.

Undaunted, he sent the text to the local newspaper, where a local gay organisation saw it and made an official complaint to the police. Green was asked for a recording of the sermon which somehow he had, and was then indicted. [1]

Let me provide you some choice quotes. There is this part where he blamed gay people for Aids:

Legalizing [domestic] partnerships between men and men, between woman and woman, it will simply create disasters -- beyond comparison! We are already seeing the results of this. We see it through the spread of AIDS. Certainly, not all AIDS-infected individuals are homosexuals, but it came into existence because of this in the past.

Then this part where he connected gay people with bestiality:

The Bible clearly teaches about these abnormalities. Sexual abnormalities are a deep cancerous tumor in the entire society. The Lord knows that sexually twisted people will rape the animals.

And then blamed gay people for leading the way to paedophilia:

All homosexuals are not pedophiles or perverts. They nevertheless open the door to forbidden areas and allow sin to take hold of the life of the mind. And the one who is a pedophile today does not start out as such. They simply begin by changing their gender relationships. That is how it began. To be "faithful" in a homosexual relationship is in no way a better relationship than where you frequently change partners.

Homosexual orientation is chosen, he asserted:

Is homosexuality something one chooses? Answer: YES. You choose it. You are not born into it. It is absolutely that way; otherwise it would be a betrayal of mankind. You voluntarily enter into this.

And this one sounds awfully like Derek Hong, where Ake Green said gay people are irredeemably gripped by evil.

Sodom, as a cautionary example, is mentioned over 30 times in the Bible. These sins of sexual immorality are so deeply rooted that not even the judgments of the tribulation are able to make people abandon the sin of sexual immorality. [2]

[snip]

The judgments cannot convince people to abandon their sins of sexual immorality. Is this not possession by evil spiritual forces? It is so deeply rooted in man that when the judgments come and go across our world, the sexually immoral will not change, but they will continue to live as sexually immoral people. Consequently, it must be that they are gripped by evil spiritual forces.

Ake Green was charged for instigating hate against a group of people under a law that had recently been passed by the Swedish parliament. The relevant section of the law (BRB 16:6 para.8) said:

8: Anyone who, through expression or other form of communication that is spread, threatens or expresses disrespect for a group of people or other such groups of persons with reference to race, color, national or ethnic origin, confession of faith or sexual orientation, shall be sentenced for instigation against a group of people to prison up to two years or, if the crime is minor, to fines.

If the crime is major he shall be sentenced to at least six months and up to four years in jail.

In the determination of whether the crime is major, consideration shall be given to whether the message had especially threatening or offensive content and whether the message has been spread to a great number of people in a way that is meant to generate considerable attention.

On 29 June 2004, the Lower Court in Kalmar found him guilty and sentenced him to one month in jail. However, the prosecutor felt the sentence was inadequate and appealed it.

The appeals court, however, overturned the conviction on 11 February 2005, citing Green's right to freedom of speech and religion. Naturally, the chief prosecutor was even less satisfied. In his view, he told reporters, Green's comments did amount to hate speech, and so he sought a review by the Supreme Court.

Thus this became one of the most celebrated cases pitting freedom of expression against well-intentioned laws that seek to act against hate speech.

The Supreme Court delivered its verdict on 29 November 2005. It concluded that the defendant had indeed breached the law. The court's decision said,

Ake Green 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.

However, the court also had to consider whether the law was valid in the first place in relation to the Swedish constitution and to the European Convention on Human Rights.

When the European Court of Human Rights assesses whether an alleged limitation is necessary in a democratic society, the Court adjudicates whether it corresponds to a pressing social need, whether it is proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued and whether the reasons given by the national authorities to justify it were relevant and sufficient....

As regards expressions that spread, incite, promote or justify hatred based on intolerance (including religious intolerance) – "hate speech" – the Court of Human Rights considers that it may be necessary to punish or even prevent expressions of that kind. An overall assessment must be made of the circumstances, including the contents of what was said and the context in which the statements were made, to determine if the restriction is proportional in relation to the purpose and if the reasons for it are relevant and sufficient. The nature and severity of the penalty must also be taken into consideration in this context.

In an overall assessment of the circumstances – in the light of the practice of the European Court of Human Rights - in the case of Ake Green 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. Under such circumstances it is probable that the European Court of Human Rights, when examining the limitation on AG’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.

 

In effect, the Supreme Court said that while Swedish law is clearcut, and Ake Green was in violation of it, European law requires an assessment of proportionality and context. Hence it would be "probable" that the European Court of Human Rights would not uphold the conviction.

Hans Ytterberg, Sweden's Ombudsman against discrimination with respect to sexual orientation, wrote a paper for the country's law journal pointing out that the final twist was strange. "Probable" does not connote any certainty. If the Supreme Court could not be certain how the European Court of Human Rights would rule on such a case, then they should have found Ake Green guilty under Swedish law and let Green appeal to the European Court to try to reverse it. That way, a definitive judgement would be obtained from the European Court.

He was gratified that in a subsequent case in which a restaurant manager verbally abused and threw out 2 lesbians from their table, the court stood its ground and found the manager guilty. Ytterberg believes the court has taken his criticism to heart. 

* * * * *

 
Sweden's neighbour, Denmark, was the epicentre of the Prophet Mohammed cartoon controversy. Indeed, some newspapers in Norway and Sweden supported the Danish newspapers by printing similar material.

Throughout the crisis, the European governments (with the possible exception of British) stood by the principle of free speech.

It is therefore worth noting that the principle of free speech cuts both ways: while religionists gain the freedom to attack their targets, so others have the same freedom to insult and parody a religion. Both rely on the same principle.

It would be inconsistent to say that insulting religious feelings is to be banned, but those with religious conviction can go about insulting other groups. To do so, would be to make a claim of special immunity for any speech that is religiously-based. But why should religion have any special immunity?

 

Singapore's laws in fact show precisely this kind of double-standard. In the newly revised Penal Code, special protection is given to "religious or racial feelings".

Uttering words, etc., with deliberate intent to wound the religious feelings of any person.

298. Whoever, with deliberate intention of wounding the religious or racial feelings of any person, utters any word or makes any sound in the hearing of that person, or makes any gesture in the sight of that person, or places any object in the sight of that person, or causes any matter however represented to be seen or heard by that person, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both.

Promoting enmity between different groups on ground of religion or race, and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony

298A. Whoever ––

(a) by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise, promotes or attempts to promote, on grounds of religion or race, disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will between different religious or racial groups or communities; or

(b) commits any act which is prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony between different religious or racial groups or communities, and which disturbs or is likely to disturb the public tranquility,

shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to 3 years, or with fine, or with both.".

A preacher in a mosque, or even outside it, can make all sorts of offensive allegations about women and their "immorality", a pastor in a church can say all sorts of outrageous things about gays and lesbians, but are you allowed to shout back?

The Singapore government has said that the Prophet Mohammed cartoons would not be allowed into Singapore. This would include the one -- there were 12 cartoons -- that showed Muhammad with a crescent moon behind his head. The middle part of the crescent is obscured, revealing only the ends which resemble a devil's horns. But would it be an offence to caricature gays and lesbians as "agents of Satan", say, in a church newsletter?

Another cartoon has the prophet with a bomb in his turban, with a lit fuse and the Islamic creed written on the bomb, thereby linking Islam with violent extremism. This too is banned. But what if someone linked gay men with paedophilia? Or Aids, or bestiality -- take your pick.

Why does our state make this distinction between offending race and religion and other types of offence? Well, what comes to mind immediately is the risk of violence. It is much more likely for people to take to the streets and run amok when they feel their religious and ethnic identity has been violated, much less likely for gays and lesbians to do so. Does this mean that if any group wants legal protection, they should first demonstrate their propensity to riot? Is that what Singapore law encourages?

© Yawning Bread 


 

 

 

1 Nov 2007
Straits Times

Sexy women are a distraction, says PAS leader

Malaysia's Muslim men are suffering sleepless nights and cannot pray properly because their thoughts are distracted by a growing number of women who wear sexy clothes in public, a prominent opposition cleric said.

Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat, the spiritual leader of Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), said he wanted to speak about the 'emotional abuse' that men face because it is seldom discussed, the fundamentalist Islamic party reported on its website yesterday.

'We always (hear about) the abuse of children and wives in households, which is easily perceived by the eye, but the emotional abuse of men cannot be seen,' Datuk Nik Aziz said. 'Our prayers become unfocused and our sleep is often disturbed.'

He has made controversial comments about women in the past, including that women should stop wearing lipstick and perfume to lower the risk of being raped.

Women's groups have slammed his statements. They say comments like his encourage rapes because they put the blame on women.

Datuk Nik Aziz is also the Chief Minister of Kelantan, the sole Malaysian state that is not ruled by the Barisan Nasional governing coalition.

In the northern state, the Islamic party has fined Muslim women for not wearing headscarves in workplaces and implemented separate check-out lines for men and women in supermarkets.

 

Footnotes

  1. A translation of the sermon can be found here:
    http://www.eaec.org/bibleanswers/ake_green_sermon.htm 
    Return to where you left off

  2. See a post by Mr Wang Says So on Sodom here
    Return to where you left off

  3. For more information, see www.akegreen.org  

 

Addenda

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