John-Henry Westen

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Sweden’s Hate Speech Law condemned at UN Human Rights Commission

John-Henry Westen

GENEVA, April 15, 2005 (LifeSiteNews.com) - The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty delivered a speech today at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva calling for an end to Sweden’s hate speech law.

The Becket Fund—a nonpartisan, interfaith, public interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions—filed an amicus (friend of the court) brief that helped overturn the judgment against a pastor convicted under the hate speech law. Becket Fund attorney Jared Leland published an article in Sweden’s Varlden Idag newspaper about the case and its implications on religious exercise and expression. The Becket Fund is a Non-Governmental Organization in consultative status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations.

Chapter 15, Section 8 of Sweden’s criminal code prohibits the expression of “disrespect” towards favoured minority groups. The law carries a penalty of up to four years of imprisonment. It requires no evidence of incitement to violence and lacks any objective standard for identifying “disrespect.”

Earlier this year, a Swedish appeals court overturned the conviction of Pastor Ake Green, the first clergyman convicted under the law, citing free speech protections. Pastor Green had been sentenced to one month in jail for a sermon that he preached to his congregation in 2003 on Biblical texts addressing homosexuality. The government has indicated they may appeal the latest ruling to the Supreme Court.

“The right to enjoy a freedom can only be as secure as it is for the smallest minority—the individual,” The Becket Fund said in its statement. “In pluralistic societies, very few values are shared by all. Often times the only shared value is the belief that we must respect each other’s differences. Countries, like Sweden, that genuinely desire open dialogue between diverse groups do so best by strenuously protecting freedom of expression for all.”

The Becket Fund pointed out that one of the world’s most celebrated figures also held contentious views, but at the same time fought for the right of others to express theirs. “The late Pope John Paul II also dissented from popularly held views on homosexual behavior, abortion, and divorce,” The Becket Fund said. “Yet, last week UN Secretary General Kofi Annan praised him for his ‘irreplaceable voice speaking out for . . . mutual respect . . . .’ The Secretary General recognized that though the Pope held controversial views, he also espoused a commitment to respecting the voices of others, even when he believed they were in the wrong.”

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