A judge this morning took under advisement a request to dismiss a lawsuit filed on behalf of a group of “gays” in Uganda who allege that an American pastor’s opposition to homosexuality is an international criminal offense.
The request was filed by Liberty Counsel on behalf of Rev. Scott Lively of Abiding Truth Ministries. LC Senior Litigation Counsel Harry Mihet told WND the judge indicated a ruling would be coming soon.
But he warned that at the heart of the case against Lively is the belief that the First Amendment free speech protections should play second fiddle to an international consensus that criticism of homosexuality is criminal.
The arguments were heard in U.S. District Court in Springfield, Mass., in the claim brought by a foreign group called Sexual Minorities of Uganda (SMUG), which alleges that Lively’s criticism of homosexuality constituted “crimes against humanity” in violation of “international law” and his speech must be punished.
The plaintiffs allege that the Alien Tort Statute in the United States allows them to do that inside the United States.
Defense lawyers, however, warn that an outcome favorable to SMUG would mean that the U.S. Constitution no longer governs the United States. The bedrock First Amendment protections, they contend, would become “subservient to the inchoate and amorphous dictates of ‘international law.'”
Mihet told WND he argued that the lawsuit was prevented by the First Amendment, which puts the U.S. Constitution at a standing higher than international law.
Mihet said it’s always difficult to predict what a judge may decide, but he was encouraged by the judge’s statement that he was “very troubled by the idea that an American citizen could be punished for sharing ideas and beliefs with others, even if someone is offended.”
He said the judge showed a commitment to the First Amendment.
The case against Lively claims that by speaking in opposition to homosexuality, he was conspiring to deprive the plaintiffs of their fundamental rights.
Mihet explained that SMUG would allow people to express an opinion against homosexuality, but they would not be allowed to take any action.
Under that precedent, he said, someone petitioning in opposition to special designations for homosexuals would become an international human rights criminal. Likewise, those who worked to support Proposition 8 in California, the state’s constitutional definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman, would be subject to conviction, he said.
It also would target those who are working to defeat the ENDA plan in Congress, which imposes certain special protections for homosexuals in the workplace.
“All of those become criminals overnight under this theory of liability,” Mihat said.
Lively’s attorneys have explained that SMUG’s attack goes direct to the supremacy and portability of the U.S. Constitution.
“SMUG asks this United States court to punish one of its citizens, Mr. Lively, for ‘crimes against humanity’ under an international treaty that The United States has expressly rejected,” a court filing opposing SMUG’s case explains.
“Moreover, what SMUG cavalierly and conclusorily labels as ‘crimes against humanity’ – the most heinous of crimes – is actually nothing more than civil, non-violent political discourse in the public square on a subject of great public concern, which occupies the highest run of First Amendment protection,” the brief said.
The action was prompted by Lively “sharing his biblical views on homosexuality during a 2009 visit to Uganda.”
While there may have been some actions in Uganda against homosexuals, Liberty Counsel said, “SMUG alleges no plausible connection between Mr. Lively and the actual perpetrators of those alleged violent acts, and, indeed, Mr. Lively’s name is not mentioned in single time within the many pages of the complaint that describe those six events.”
Mathew Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, said: “This lawsuit against Rev. Scott Lively is a gross attempt to use a vague international law to silence, and eventually criminalize, speech by U.S. citizens on homosexuality and moral issues. This suit should cause everyone to be concerned, because it is a direct threat against freedom of speech.”
SMUG is represented by the George Soros-funded Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, which even the New York Times described as left-leaning.
“[The Alien Tort.Statute] is not a blanket delegation of lawmaking to the democratically unaccountable international community,” said Staver. “Like all American citizens, Rev. Lively enjoys a fundamental First Amendment right to engage in nonviolent political discourses anywhere in the world. What SMUG cavalierly labels as ‘crimes against humanity’ – the most heinous of all crimes – is actually nothing more than civil, peaceful, political discourse in the public square on a subject of great public concern.”
The case has some significant holes, Liberty Counsel contends.
“SMUG also does not tell the court that David Kato – the murdered Ugandan activist whom SMUG makes the centerpiece of this lawsuit – was killed not by an enraged homophobe incited by Mr. Lively’s protected speech, but by a homosexual prostitute upset over a failed business transaction.
“Neither does SMUG tell the court that the confessed perpetrator of this horrible crime was tried and convicted in Ugandan courts, and is now serving a 30-year prison sentence.
“And, finally, SMUG does not tell the court that, far from inciting violence, Mr. Lively has consistently condemned acts of violence and calls to violence in the strongest possible terms, and has praised the Ugandan courts for imparting justice.”
Among the incidents of alleged persecution cited by SMUG include a February 2012 “raid” of a sex conference in which materials were seized. The raid allegedly was conducted by the Ugandan Ministry of Ethics. Another incident was the “arrest” of three homosexual activists by Ugandan police. Several others also were cited.
LC said that SMUG does not claim Lively was involved in any of the alleged incidents of persecution or that “he was even in Uganda at the time they occurred.”
“Nevertheless, SMUG seeks to hold Mr. Lively, and Mr. Lively alone, liable for these six alleged ‘crimes against humanity,’ not because of anything Mr. Lively has done, but because of what Mr. Lively has said about homosexuality and the homosexual rights movement, either in various books and writings, or during visits to Uganda in 2002 and 2009.”
The crux of the claims is that Lively expressed his biblically based beliefs that homosexual behavior is wrong.
WND also recently reported when Ugandan newssite New Vision said President Yoweri Museveni celebrated Uganda’s 50th anniversary of independence from Britain at the National Jubilee Prayers event by publicly repenting of his personal sin and the sins of the nation.
“I stand here today to close the evil past, and especially in the last 50 years of our national leadership history and at the threshold of a new dispensation in the life of this nation. I stand here on my own behalf and on behalf of my predecessors to repent. We ask for your forgiveness,” Museveni prayed.
“We confess these sins, which have greatly hampered our national cohesion and delayed our political, social and economic transformation. We confess sins of idolatry and witchcraft which are rampant in our land. We confess sins of shedding innocent blood, sins of political hypocrisy, dishonesty, intrigue and betrayal,” Museveni said.
“Forgive us of sins of pride, tribalism and sectarianism; sins of laziness, indifference and irresponsibility; sins of corruption and bribery that have eroded our national resources; sins of sexual immorality, drunkenness and debauchery; sins of unforgiveness, bitterness, hatred and revenge; sins of injustice, oppression and exploitation; sins of rebellion, insubordination, strife and conflict,” Museveni prayed.
The president also dedicated Uganda to God.
“We want to dedicate this nation to you so that you will be our God and guide. We want Uganda to be known as a nation that fears God and as a nation whose foundations are firmly rooted in righteousness and justice to fulfill what the Bible says in Psalm 33:12: Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord. A people you have chosen as your own,” Museveni prayed.