A federal judge ruled Wednesday that a first-of-its-kind persecution case against antigay American evangelist Scott Lively filed by LGBT Ugandans can proceed, according to the Center for Constitutional Rights, which helped Sexual Minorities Uganda file the international lawsuit. Lively had filed a request to dismiss the suit, saying his antigay proselytizing was protected by his First Amendment rights to free speech.
The ruling "is a significant victory for human rights everywhere but most especially for LGBTI Ugandans who are seeking accountability from those orchestrating our persecution," said Frank Mugisha, executive director of SMUG.
The suit seeks to hold Lively responsible for conspiring with religious and government leaders to persecute LGBT people in Uganda, where parliament is still considering the so-called Kill the Gays bill that proposes capital punishment of homosexuality in certain instances.
During opening arguments in January, the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights said Lively's decade-long collaboration with political and religious leaders in Uganda deprived the nation's LGBT people of basic human rights and should therefore be punishable under the Alien Tort Statute, which gives "survivors of egregious human rights abuses, wherever committed, the right to sue the perpetrators in the United States," according to the Center for Justice and Accountability.
Although federal judge Michael Ponsor initially expressed doubt that Lively's actions constituted international human rights violations, statements the judge made in court Wednesday seemed to indicate a shift in tone.
"Widespread, systematic persecution of LGBTI people constitutes a crime against humanity that unquestionably violates international norms,” said Ponsor, according to a press release from the Center for Constitutional Rights. "The history and current existence of discrimination against LGBTI people is precisely what qualifies them as a distinct targeted group eligible for protection under international law. The fact that a group continues to be vulnerable to widespread, systematic persecution in some parts of the world simply cannot shield one who commits a crime against humanity from liability."
The center notes that Lively has a long history of traveling to international locales to peddle his antigay propaganda. In 2007, Lively toured 50 cities in Russia, proposing some of the strict antigay laws that were recently signed by president Vladimir Putin.
LGBT activists heralded the judge's decision, eager to see the antigay preacher made to testify about his hate speech under oath.
"Activists like Scott Lively have increasingly started to confuse their religious freedom with a license to persecute LGBT people and criminalize homosexuality around the world," said Wayne Besen, executive director of pro-LGBT group Truth Wins Out. "We hope that this case is the beginning of an ongoing effort to hold those who commit anti-LGBT crimes accountable for crimes against humanity. LGBT people should be safe and free from discrimination on every square inch of this planet, and no government has the right to punish and persecute gay people for who they are."