Toggle navigation menu.
Praying hands

Religious Speech Limitations in Sweden

  • Hon. Christopher H. Smith
    US












House of Representative

109th Congress, First Session

Mr. Speaker, freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief is a fundamental element of international human rights norms. It is inextricably intertwined with other fundamental rights, including the rights to freedom of speech, freedom of association and freedom of assembly. Considering this, I am increasingly concerned by European trends to place limitations on religious speech under the guise of preventing offense or limiting hate speech. One such case concerns Ake Green, the pastor of a Pentecostal church in Kalmar, Sweden, who was sentenced to 1 month in prison for “inciting hatred” against homosexuals.

 

Pastor Green’s troubles began on July 20, 2003, when he expressed his disapproval of homosexuality in a sermon, founded upon his understanding of the Bible. He did not incite nor encourage his congregation on the small southeastern island of Oland to violence. He did, however, express his personal opinion on homosexuality and made a personal moral judgment that the lifestyle was sinful. He later circulated the sermon text to media outlets in an attempt to insert an alternative view into Sweden’s “marketplace of ideas.”

 

When prosecutors saw the sermon printed, they brought charges against Pastor Green for “inciting hate” toward homosexuals. A district court agreed in June 2004, finding his sermon to be criminal. One particularly alarming quote from the district court’s decision stated, “It is forbidden to use the Bible or similar material to threaten or express disrespect for homosexuals as a group.” Mr. Speaker, should pastors really be sent to jail for sermons that a court deems “disrespectful” or “offensive”? Should the state really dictate how a religious leader interprets the Bible, the Torah, or other religious texts? The district court’s ruling raises the question of whether ministers and priests in Sweden are really free to preach their beliefs.

 

I recognize that the right to freedom of expression is not absolute and not all speech is protected. After 9/11 and the Madrid and London bombings, we have all seen how criminals abuse religion to preach violence and lead others in criminal deeds. Authorities are within their rights to take legal action to curtail the speech when it rises to the level of posing an imminent threat of actual criminal action. The international community and the European Court of Human Rights have recognized this high threshold for limiting speech activity. Yet we must be careful to not limit religious liberties and speech rights.

 

Thankfully, Pastor Green has not spent a night in jail while his case is on appeal. Also encouraging was the February decision by an appellate court to overturn the conviction, saying it is not illegal to preach a personal interpretation of the Bible. However, Sweden’s chief prosecutor, Fredrik Wersaell, appealed to the Supreme Court, contending that Green violated Sweden’s 2003 hate crimes law. The Supreme Court will hear the appeal on November 9th.

 

Undoubtedly, Swedes enjoy tremendous religious freedoms and generally Sweden is a staunch defender of human rights. However, in this case, the government has sought to limit basic religious teachings. I believe the criminalization of the use of the Bible to express beliefs, if not overturned, will have frighteningly broad ramifications for the free practice of religion in Sweden and beyond.

Category
Country
Issue
Date
Filter Topics Open Close
Hearings

Vladimir Kara-Murza: Putin’s Personal Prisoner

Sep 20, 2023

Stream here: HEARING: Vladimir Kara-Murza: Putin’s Personal Prisoner – YouTube Vladimir Kara-Murza, a father, husband, and a freedom fighter, has been in detention for over five hundred days and is currently being transferred to a prison in Siberia. As he is being moved, his family has lost all contact with him and are faced with worry […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Helsinki Commission Leadership Celebrate Pardon of N...

Jun 23, 2023

Washington—Today, the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, Representative Joe Wilson (SC-02) and Ranking Member Steve Cohen (TN-09), applauded Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili’s decision to issue a presidential pardon for journalist Nikoloz “Nika” Gvaramia. Mr. Gvaramia, an outspoken media figure and […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

HELSINKI COMMISSION SENDS APPEAL TO GEORGIAN PRESIDE...

Apr 28, 2023

WASHINGTON— The leadership of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, Chairman Representative Joe Wilson (SC-02), Co-Chairman Senator Ben Cardin (MD), and Ranking Members Representative Steve Cohen (TN-09) and Senator Roger Wicker (MS) sent a letter to Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili urging her to intervene to break […]

screen-reader-text
Hearings

CHURCH, STATE, AND RUSSIA’S WAR ON UKRAINE

Apr 27, 2023

The Putin regime has long used the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) to consolidate its power at home and abroad. Under the leadership of Patriarch Kirill, the ROC has explicitly endorsed Russia’s war on Ukraine, even blessing weapons for the invasion. Churches under the mantle of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) had long been viewed […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Helsinki Commission Chair and Co-Chair: Statement on...

Feb 20, 2023

WASHINGTON—Following reports of the sharp deterioration of Azerbaijani dissident Bakhtiyar Hajiyev, Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-2) and Co-Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) issued the following joint statement: “We are absolutely appalled at the continued unwarranted detention and mistreatment of Azerbaijani civil activist Bakhtiyar Hajiyev, who has been imprisoned on trumped up charges and […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Congressmen Cohen and Wilson Introduce Resolution Re...

Oct 28, 2022

WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, and the Commission’s Ranking Member, Congressman Joe Wilson (SC-02), today introduced a resolution recognizing October 30 as International Day of Political Prisoners. Congressman Cohen was recently named the Special Representative on Political Prisoners […]

screen-reader-text
Statements

Congressmen Cohen and Wilson Introduce Resolution Re...

Oct 28, 2022

WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, and the Commission’s Ranking Member, Congressman Joe Wilson (SC-02), today introduced a resolution recognizing October 30 as International Day of Political Prisoners. Congressman Cohen was recently named the Special Representative on Political Prisoners […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Co-Chairman Cohen Discusses Role as Special Represen...

Sep 07, 2022

WASHINGTON—Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep Steve Cohen (TN-09) today spoke at a virtual hearing of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA)about his new role as the assembly’s special representative for political prisoners. Co-Chairman Cohen thanked OSCE PA President Margareta Cederfelt of Sweden for naming him to the special representative role […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Co-Chairman Cohen Deplores Arrest of Former Yekateri...

Aug 29, 2022

WASHINGTON—Following the arrest of the Kremlin critic and former Yekaterinburg mayor Yevgeniy Roizman, Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman and OSCE PA Special Representative on Political Prisoners Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09) issued the following statement: “The arrest and prosecution of Yevgeniy Roizman is another milestone in the Kremlin’s descent into a full-blown dictatorship. “Putin’s brutal war against Ukraine […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Co-Chairman Cohen Calls for the Release of Political...

Aug 09, 2022

Washington – On the second anniversary of the sham presidential election in Belarus, the Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman and OSCE PA Special Representative on Political Prisoners Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09) issued the following statement: “Two years ago today, Belarus’s autocrat Aleksander Lukashenko put up a show of an election that he had hoped would legitimize his […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

CO-CHAIRMAN COHEN CALLS FOR THE RELEASE OF ALAA ABD ...

Aug 04, 2022

WASHINGTON— Concerning Alaa Abd el-Fattah’s imprisonment, Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman and OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Special Representative on Political Prisoners Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09) released a letter calling for Secretary Blinken to prioritize “the swift release of Mr. Abd el-Fattah”. The letter read in part: “In 2011, the people of Egypt achieved something remarkable – they ousted […]

screen-reader-text
Publications

Helsinki Commission Digital Digest July 2022

Jul 29, 2022

screen-reader-text