Daring to speak up – by Julia Doxat-Purser, European Evangelical Alliance

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Daring to speak up

By Julia Doxat-Purser,

European Evangelical Alliance Socio-Political Representative

& Religious Liberty Coordinator

This summer, Mats Tunehag, President of the Swedish Evangelical Alliance, has been in the middle of a media storm and public debate. And he’s delighted.

In Sweden, it is illegal to “express contempt” for people on the grounds of race and skin colour, religion or sexual orientation. In practice, the police and courts have chosen to act to defend Muslims, Jews and homosexuals.

On the surface, the Swedish hate crime law seems good. However, Mats has dared to link the law with the Guantanamo Bay camp. In Sweden, it is generally perceived that the American government’s intentions were good in wanting to prevent terrorism but they have used bad means to do so by setting up a prison camp which tramples on human rights. Mats thinks the Swedish hate crime law is similar. Good intentions have led to huge damage to human rights. Free speech has been limited and there is no longer equality before the law. In addition, “expressing contempt” is subjective. How can someone know whether what they say may be interpreted as contemptuous by the hearer?

Mats wrote an article for one of the biggest Swedish newspapers, using clear language and arguments that opened people’s eyes to the problem. For instance, if a homosexual hit Mr. Smith, he could be imprisoned for 2 months. However, if Mr. Smith hit a homosexual, he could be imprisoned for 4 months. The background, opinions and emotions of both the perpetrator and the victim should be examined by police and courts and may affect the sentence. Why the discrepancy? And how exactly were the courts going to measure somebody’s hatred for a victim?

Mats received one thousand comments on this article, with more than 90% in support. In response, the Chief Public Prosecutor wrote an article. He sought to reassure people that no one should be afraid of giving “correct criticism” and that you can have any view you like, as long as you keep it to yourself.

Mats wrote another article to underline exactly how frightening it is if the authorities are permitted to prosecute people for not having “correct” views. Free speech has nothing to do with getting the facts right or being politically correct. The two biggest television stations invited him to come and debate his views with a politician and the chief prosecutor. A large percentage of the Swedish population watched. Again, Mats received overwhelming support.

“Ordinary” people are relieved that someone has had the courage to speak up. Many shared that the law has left them too scared to talk to their Muslim neighbours and colleagues in case they accidentally offend them. So, rather than stop hatred, the law has established walls of fear between people.

What lessons can we learn from this story? Mats said “Evangelical Alliances should not be scared to speak up for what is right. We should prepare well so that we can use rational and professional but simple arguments (without Christian jargon) that will make sense to the general public. Of course we should state very clearly that hating people is wrong. But we must speak up because, without free speech and equality before the law, other freedoms are in danger, e.g. freedom of press or religion. Other people may be too fearful to say what needs to be said. And finally, let’s not be surprised when we find people agreeing with us”.

August 2007.