From The Washington Post, Feb. 12:

A Swedish appeals court on Friday overturned the conviction of a Pentecostal pastor found guilty of violating the country’s hate-speech law.

The court ruled that the Rev. Ake Green had a right to preach "the Bible’s categorical condemnation of homosexual relations as a sin," even if that position was "alien to most citizens" and if Green’s views could be "strongly questioned," according to news-service translations of the court’s ruling. The appeals court ruled that Sweden’s law was never intended to stifle open discussion of homosexuality or restrict a pastor’s right to preach.

But, contrary to claims of the religious right, Bible preaching is not what got Green in trouble with the law.

Green was prosecuted because of a sermon that labeled homosexuality "a deep cancerous tumor in the entire society" and equated it with pedophilia.

According to the Post, the case began in June 2003 at Green’s small church.

"Our country is facing a disaster of great proportions," he said in the sermon, equating homosexuality with pedophilia and bestiality. He warned that "sexually twisted people will rape animals."

Green was convicted and sentenced to 30 days in prison, but remained free pending appeal. He was the first person in Sweden convicted of agitating against homosexuals since the law was extended to gays and lesbians in 2002. He was also the first preacher in Sweden convicted for hate speech for remarks made from the pulpit.

Gay rights activists in Sweden may appeal, arguing (in part) that Green’s speech would be illegal if directed at  Jews, for whom the hate-speech laws were originally written.

The Swedish court ruling may represent both a victory for free speech — and a defeat for civility.

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