Thursday, February 17, 2005


A Swedish pastor convicted of hate crimes for a sermon denouncing homosexuals as a ``cancer'' was acquitted Friday by an appeals court that said he was protected by the country's free speech laws. The Goeta Appeals Court said that while Aake Green's views of gays can be ``strongly questioned,'' it was not illegal to offer a personal interpretation of the Bible and urge others to follow it. ``The purpose of making agitation against gays punishable is not to prevent arguments or discussions about homosexuality, not in churches or in other parts of society,'' the court said.

Green, 63, was the first clergyman convicted under Sweden's tough hate crimes laws, which make it a crime to make inflammatory remarks against racial, religious or national groups. The laws were ratified in 2003 to include homosexuals. Green gave his sermon the same year, telling a congregation on the small southeastern island of Oeland that homosexuals were ``a deep cancer tumor on all of society.'' He warned congregants that Sweden risked a natural disaster because of its leniency toward gays. ``Homosexuality is something sick,'' Green said. He compared it with pedophilia and bestiality, saying gays were more likely to rape children and animals. He was convicted in June and sentenced to 30 days in jail.

In an interview Thursday with The Associated Press, Green said it was not the month in prison he's worried about, but ``the freedom to preach God's word.'' The appeals court shared that concern, saying statements during sermons rarely qualify as racial agitation.

Green's acquittal brought a sigh of relief from some ministers who saw the case as a challenge to freedom of religion and expression. ``This indicates that the justice system works, and that it gives a certain amount of protection to us who preach God's word,'' said Ralph Toerner, a priest from the Swedish branch of the British-based Holy Catholic Church. ``But at the same time, I think this should be a warning signal to preachers overall, that they shouldn't use such coarse language when talking about something sensitive. The Christian faith is not about judging people.''

Prosecutor Kjell Yngvesson argued that Green -- who invited several newspapers to hear the sermon -- ``expressed disdain for the homosexuals as a group. He compared the sermon to a racist shouting out the Nazi salute ``Sieg Heil.'' Johanna Nystroem, a spokeswoman for RFSU, the Swedish Association for Sexuality Education, had hoped Green's sentence would be upheld. ``To say these things in a public setting is to call for action (against gays),'' said Nystroem. ``It's one thing to be against homosexuality, but when you're urging people to take action in the way he did, it's a completely different matter.''

Not all religious leaders support Green. Swedish Archbishop Karl Gustav Hammar has denounced his sermon, calling it ``a miserable theology,'' and said the case should not be seen as a threat to religious freedom. ``It's not a question of the freedom of the pulpit,'' Hammar said. ``The sermon was evidently sent out to the media to create a reaction.''



No separation of church and state in Britain! Religious Education students in Britain must now include the letters "pbuh" ("peace be upon him") in parentheses every time they write the name of Mohammed

Religious Education in most schools in the UK is about comparative religion. There are six statutory religions in teaching RE. The law says that Christianity has to be the dominant religion taught in RE. Schools then choose amongst Islam, Judaism, Sikhism, Hinduism, and Buddhism to fill out the rest of the curriculum. My school does the first three. These four religions are taught in years 7, 8, 9 (the same ages as 6th-8th grade in the US).

At GCSE* we do one of the Christianity papers and one of the Islam papers (with corresponding essay coursework). Now I don't have a problem teaching comparative religion generally. I think it is a good thing for both children and adults to know about other religions and understand the cultures around them.

The potential problem has arisen in teaching about Muhammad. The exam board requires that every time Muhammad is written, the letters "pbuh" in parentheses be placed after it. This is shorthand for "peace be upon him". The writer therefore prays a blessing upon him everytime his name is written, as is the custom of Muslims. So I have to tell my students (over and over if there is any hope of them remembering) that they must bless Muhammad every time they mention his name.

For most, if not all, of my students, this will be no problem. Few, if any, have any religious convictions whatsoever. It's not so bad that I have to tell them to do something that I would find reprehensible. However, I am expected to model what they should do to reinforce their learning. I will never pray a blessing upon Muhammad. To do so would be to repudiate my faith. It would imply I believe the Shahada (the Muslim declaration of faith) even if those hearing or reading it were unable to infer this.

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Here are three small news items from around the world you might have missed:

1) An unemployed waitress in Berlin faces the loss of her welfare benefits after refusing a job as a prostitute in a legalized brothel.

2) A British court has ruled that a suspected terrorist from Algeria cannot be detained in custody because jail causes him to suffer a ''depressive illness.''

3) Seventeen-year-old Jeffrey Eden of Charlestown, R.I., has been awarded an A by his teacher and the ''Silver Key'' in the Rhode Island Scholastic Art Awards for a diorama titled ''Bush/Hitler and How History Repeats Itself.''

A trio of itsy-bitsy little stories from the foot of page 27 of your daily paper, if they made it at all. But they're as revealing about the course of the war as anything going on in Iraq. The Germans, in the bad old days when their preferred field of combat was France rather than Fraulein Helga's government-regulated bondage dungeon, used to talk about ''wehrwille'' -- war will. America, Britain, Australia and a select few other countries have demonstrated they can just about muster the ''war will'' on the battlefield. On the broader cultural front, where this war in the end will be won, there's little evidence of any kind of will.....

When the Germans legalized their whorehouses, they thought it showed how relaxed and enlightened they were. The al-Qaida types take a different line: They think it's a sign that the West is decadent and weak and cannot survive. And they have a point: The government forcing women into prostitution is merely the latest example of the internal contradictions of the modern secular state.

That British court judgment is another. SIAC, the United Kingdom's anti-terrorist court, found in 2003 that the 35-year-old Algerian male in question had ''actively assisted terrorists who have links to al-Qaida.'' But he was released from Belmarsh Prison because of his ''depressive condition.'' I'd be in a depressive condition if I were a terrorist: The Afghan camps are gone, the Great Satan's liberated Iraq, and Osama re-emerges from his three-year sabbatical only to release a floppo ''Vote Kerry!'' video recycling a lot of lame Michael Moore gags. The more Islamists in a depressive condition the better. Maybe if they get sufficiently depressed they'll stop being terrorists and become trainee accountants or male hairdressers.....

I'm not worried about Iraq. As they demonstrated on Jan. 30, they'll be just fine. The western front is the important one in this war, the point of intersection between Islam and a liberal democratic tradition so mired in self-loathing it would rather destroy our civilization just to demonstrate its multicultural bona fides. It's not that young Eden knows nothing, but that neither his teachers, judges nor furniture showroom proprietors do. By contrast, our enemies know us very well, at least when it comes to courtroom strategies and canny manipulation of the fetish of ''tolerance.''

It's an open question whether the West will survive this twilight struggle: Europe almost certainly won't, America might; on the other hand, the psychosis to which much of the culture is in thrall may eventually reach a tipping point into mass civilizational suicide. And then the new barbarians will inherit, and young Master Eden will end his days pining for the rosy-hued nostalgia for the Bushitler tyranny.

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