c. 2005 Religion News Service
Swedish Pastor’s Acquittal of Alleged Hate Crime Called Free Speech Win
(RNS) American legal groups defending religious liberty say they are pleased with the acquittal of a Swedish pastor who had been charged with a hate crime after calling homosexuals a “cancerous tumor” in society.
Pastor Ake Green was acquitted Tuesday (Nov. 29) by Sweden’s Supreme Court. Green had received a one-month jail sentence for his statement in a sermon about gays and lesbians. An appeals court first acquitted him in February, saying his preaching was not an attack on gays and lesbians because it was a personal interpretation of the Bible.
Sweden’s highest court upheld the lower court ruling.
The case had attracted international attention, with the Washington-based Becket Fund for Religious Liberty filing a brief urging the high court to affirm the appellate decision.
“To muzzle a preacher and mute a religious message simply because the expression is offensive to one, some, or many, is a fundamental mistake concerning a fundamental right,” said Jared Leland, spokesman for the Becket Fund, in a statement.
“The issue before the court was neither homosexuality nor society’s perception of homosexual conduct. The issue was religious liberty.”
The Alliance Defense Fund, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based legal group, helped coordinate the filing of friend-of-the-court briefs in Green’s case.
“Voicing one’s conscience is a fundamental human right, ” said Benjamin Bull, the fund’s chief counsel, who attended Green’s trial as an international observer. “This is a huge victory for religious liberty everywhere.”
John Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute, a Charlottesville, Va.-based civil liberties organization, also said he was pleased with the Swedish court’s decision.
“A pastor giving a sermon _ there’s no threat of imminent danger,” he said in an interview. “When there’s no threat of imminent danger, it should be protected by any kind of decent human rights law.”
_ Adelle M. Banks
In Washington, `Holiday Tree’ Replaced With `Capitol Christmas Tree’
WASHINGTON (RNS) The decorated tree that will stand outside the U.S. Capitol in the coming weeks has officially been designated a “Christmas Tree” again, after several years with the title “Holiday Tree.”
“The speaker believes a Christmas tree is a Christmas tree, and it is as simple as that,” Ron Bonjean, spokesman for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., told The Washington Times.
In recent years, some governments have named the firs, spruces and pines that have been placed on lawns and under rotundas “holiday trees” instead of “Christmas trees.” Others, such as the National Christmas Tree near the White House, stuck with the traditional title.
Matthew Evans, landscape architect of the U.S. Capitol, told Religion News Service in 2001 that the tree is “intended for people of all faiths to gather round at a time of coming together and fellowship and celebration.”
But this year, Evans told The Washington Times the name has changed back to the “Capitol Christmas Tree” designation it had until the late 1990s.
“This was a directive from the speaker,” he told the newspaper.
_ Adelle M. Banks
Religious Leaders Ask State Department to Press for Middle East Peace
JERUSALEM (RNS) Three dozen Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders have asked the U.S. State Department to redouble its efforts to secure a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
In a Nov. 20 letter the leaders, all members of the National Interreligious Leadership Initiative (NILI), asked Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Karen Hughes, undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, to revive the stalled peace plan known as the “Road Map.”
The religious leaders, 25 of whom head national organizations, expressed the concern that if long-stalled negotiations between the two enemies are not resumed quickly, “the opportunity toward peace created by Israel’s (August 2005) disengagement from Gaza may be lost.”
The NILI members urged Rice and Hughes to appoint a special envoy “to strengthen Israeli-Palestinian security coordination to prevent violent attacks on Israelis.” They said that “it is essential that the Palestinian Authority effectively disarm … groups that persist in carrying out acts of violence.”
At the same time, the leaders stressed their support for President Bush’s efforts to convince Israel to remove “unauthorized outposts” and “stop settlement expansion.”
They reiterated their longstanding support for the creation of a peaceful Palestinian state alongside Israel, and offered to work with the State Department to achieve this goal.
“We are committed to mobilizing support from our communities nationwide, including urging bipartisan congressional support, for active, fair and firm U.S. leadership in pursing implementation of the Road Map,” the religious leaders said, and requested a meeting with Rice and Hughes “to discuss how we, and our congregations and communities, can best help your efforts at this critical time.”
_ Michele Chabin
Conservative Protestant Coalition Decries `Third Way Policy’ on Gays
WASHINGTON (RNS) A coalition of conservative Protestant church leaders is urging mainline denominations to reject strategies that circumvent traditional church teachings on homosexuality.
The Association for Church Renewal, a Washington-based evangelical alliance based at the Institute on Religion and Democracy, issued an open letter Nov. 28 warning against “third-way policy.” Such conciliatory action, they say, would undermine orthodox doctrine by allowing procedural loopholes.
Leaders signing the letter came from 21 Christian organizations, including the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Episcopal Church and the American Baptist Church.
The letter represents a warning to those who failed in a “frontal assault” on traditional marriage within the mainline churches, but “are now trying to subvert the standards indirectly,” the letter says.
The leaders point to several examples of what they see as subversion. Foremost was a closely defeated resolution at the 2004 United Methodist Conference that would not alter the denomination’s stance that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, but would add a phrase to denomination literature that “Christians disagree” on the issue.
They also warn against similar policy to be considered at the 2006 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church. There, leaders will consider upholding the denomination’s constitutional requirement of fidelity in marriage and chastity in singleness, but would permit local churches to deem the requirement “non-essential.”
While the leaders said “third-way policy” indicates a retreat by “homosexual advocates,” they also say compromise would be more damaging than a direct blessing of homosexual relations.
“We cannot be content with standards that remain on paper while being emptied of all force,” the letter says. “Not only would it convey tolerance of sin in the important area of sexuality, but it would also set the church adrift more generally.”
_ Jason Kane
American Baptists Remain Divided Over Homosexuality
(RNS) The re-elected leader of American Baptists says his denomination’s divide over homosexuality “tears my soul.”
“I tell you from the bottom of my heart that this rupture tears my soul, and that I pledge before you, by God’s grace, that I will do everything in my power to promote the spirit of unity in the bond of peace,” said the Rev. A. Roy Medley, who was re-elected general secretary Nov 17.
His remarks referred in particular to a September decision by the American Baptist Churches of the Pacific Southwest to begin the process of withdrawing from the 1.5 million-member denomination.
Leaders of the Pacific Southwest region were among those who had said the denomination had not enforced a 1992 resolution that states “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”
Robert Roberts, another American Baptist leader, read Medley’s remarks at the meeting of the General Board of the American Baptist Churches USA in Green Lake, Wis., because illness prevented Medley from attending in person.
At that same meeting, the board voted Nov. 18 to change a “We Are American Baptists” document, adding language about sexuality, the denomination announced. The added phrase reads: “who submit to the teaching of Scripture that God’s design for sexual intimacy places it within the context of marriage between one man and one woman, and acknowledge that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with biblical teaching.”
The addition was the subject of a close vote after it was recommended by the denomination’s Indiana-Kentucky region. Fifty-nine people voted in favor of it, 45 opposed it and five abstained.
Larry Mason, executive minister of the Indiana-Kentucky region, said of the passage: “We don’t see it as a victory so much as a statement by our constituency that the Bible is our authority.”
_ Adelle M. Banks
Quote of the Day: Mississippi Investigative Reporter Jerry Mitchell
(RNS) “If they kill me, they kill me. I try not to do anything stupid. My faith plays a big role. I really believe God’s hand has been in this.”
_ Jerry Mitchell, award-winning investigative reporter for the Jackson Clarion-Ledger in Mississippi, commenting about how he has received threats for his coverage of members of the Ku Klux Klan. He was quoted by Christianity Today.
MO/JL END RNS