Joel Thornton

The case against an American arrested for talking in public about Jesus in Norway has been appealed to the European Court of Human Rights by an attorney who says the resulting decision will have a major impact on the rights of freedom and expression.

Joel Thornton, with the International Human Rights Group, said the recent filing came on behalf of Larry Keffer, who works through the Biblical Research Center in Tampa, Fla.

Keffer was arrested with Norwegian evangelist Petar Keseljevic for sharing the Gospel along a parade route in Oslo, Norway.

“Here is what happened: Twice in less than a year police officers in Oslo arrested evangelists for sharing their Christian faith in public,” Thornton explained. “Petar Keseljevic, also an IHRG client, and Larry Keffer were in public areas in Oslo on May 17, 2008, sharing their faith calmly and quietly during the Norwegian Independence Day Celebration. Part of the celebration was a parade.

“Initially, police officers told Larry and Petar that they could share their faith anywhere in Oslo except in front of the Royal Palace. Deciding to work with the police so they could get their message out, the two evangelists moved to a location along the parade route away from the palace and continued to share their faith in conversations with those who passed by them,” Thornton said.

“It did not take long for the police to come to this location and demand that Larry and Petar leave. When Larry and Petar insisted that they did not understand what law they were breaking the officers arrested the two of them. They were taken to the police station, processed, and released,” he said.

The men’s work is shown in a YouTube video:

Their actual arrest is shown in another YouTube video:

Thornton later represented Keffer at trial in Norway but was not surprised when both men were convicted.

“In Norway freedom of speech means that you are free to speak some times,” he said. “Much like what we seem to be headed toward here in the states.”

He said since Keseljevic already has a case pending before the European Court, lawyers decided to appeal only Keffer’s case from this dispute.

Thornton reported that with the help of Håkon Juell Hassel, a Norwegian attorney working with the law firm Elden DA in Oslo, the petition was filed with the court in Strasbourg, France.

Thornton said Norwegian and European laws support the rights of individuals to share their faith in public.


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