A Swedish pastor convicted of spreading hate by denouncing homosexuality in a sermon had his appeal heard by a court Wednesday. Aake Green was sentenced to a month in prison in June 2004 under the country's hate-crimes law after he cited biblical scripture to condemn homosexuality during a church service, calling it "a deep cancer tumor on all of society" and warning that Sweden risked a natural disaster because of its tolerance of gays and lesbians. Green was convicted in a district court after prosecutor Kjell Yngvesson argued that he "expressed disdain for the homosexuals as a group" and compared his sermon to a racist shouting the Nazi salute "Sieg Heil."
Sweden's hate-crimes law makes it illegal to make agitating or inflammatory remarks aimed toward a group of people, such as those belonging to a certain race, religion, or country. It was amended in 2001 to include gays and lesbians. Green said this week that his sermon was not meant to foment agitation
against gays. "I've only enlightened people on what the Bible has to say," he said, adding that if his conviction is upheld, he will appeal that decision to the supreme court. "I don't think there is a legal basis to convict me."
Green's case, which is the first of its kind in Sweden, has received extensive media coverage both in Sweden and abroad, as some churches and analysts say it's a direct challenge to freedom of speech and religion. In a debate program on public broadcaster SVT Tuesday, Gustav Fridolin, a lawmaker who served on the committee that ratified the law in 2001, said he supported the verdict. "You can quote the Bible, and you can express your opinion, but you cannot agitate," he said. "Then you've crossed a line." Lars Gaardfeldt, a priest within the Swedish Church, said he also hoped the verdict will be upheld. "If he's freed, it will send a signal to Nazis and other groups that they're free to agitate Jews, homosexuals, and others," he said.
Green said he thinks the media attention can benefit his cause. "I hope the government and parliament will be affected by this case," he said, "so that I and everyone else will have the democratic right to voice our opinions." If convicted, he said, "ministers won't be able to give our interpretation of
the Bible. Are we then just supposed to say that 'this is the Bible's view' but not say what our view is?"