ANS (12/08/05) - A precedent-setting verdict, upholding freedom of speech and religion, was issued on November 29 by the Swedish Supreme Court (SSC). According to the Laywers Christian Fellowship in London , Sweden 's highest court, in a unanimous decision, acquitted Pastor Ake Green of charges of "hate speech" arising from a sermon he preached in July, 2003 denouncing homosexual behaviors.
Lawyers Christian Fellowship says Green was initially convicted under Sweden 's new hate crimes law, enacted in 2003, which makes illegal any expressions of "disrespect" or "incitement" "towards a group of people," including groups with "sexual inclinations."
The group says that up to two years in prison is the normal penalty under the law, but if a statement against any particular group is "especially threatening or disrespectful" or "disseminated to a large number of persons," the crime is considered "major" and the perpetrator can be subject to up to four years in prison.
The Lawyers fellowship says Green had been convicted and sentenced by a lower court in 2004.
The group says: "It was claimed by some that that he had referred to homosexuals in a disrespectful way, but Green explained to the courts that he was referring to homosexual acts, not persons, Green said at his Supreme Court hearing November 9."
Green commented: "I don't take back what I said. I still think we should be able to voice our convictions without ending up in jail and if that happens I will be showing how ridiculous things have got."
In a 16-page ruling the Supreme Court said his sermon was protected by freedom of speech and religion under the European Convention on Human Rights.
"We are obliged to consider the European Convention on Human Rights and the way in which the convention has been applied by the European Court of Justice," Supreme Court Justice Johan Munck said.
"We believe that it is probable that a conviction against Pastor Green would not hold up in the European Court of Justice."
The Lawyers group says the decision to acquit Pastor Green is "very positive, setting a standard for the right to religious freedom and right to freedom of expression."
Pastor Green said he was now free to preach the word of God, and the decision was a relief both for him and other preachers.
Andrea Minichiello Williams, Public Policy Officer for the Lawyers' Christian Fellowship (LCF), remarked: "This decision sets a precedent and it is a very significant victory for freedom of speech and freedom of religion."
With the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill in the UK at the Third Reading stage, the Lawyers' Christian Fellowship hopes "that the British government will take note of this decision and consider the importance of freedom of speech and religion, and the necessity for Christian ministers to express their Biblically-based religious beliefs."
A link to a transcript of Ake Green's sermon can be found at www.akegreen.org