Sweden passed a constitutional amendment during 2002 which included sexual orientation among a list of groups protected from being targeted by "unfavorable speech." The law protects persons of all sexual orientations equally: heterosexuals, bisexuals and homosexuals. In practice, it will probably only be used to criminalize verbal attacks on homosexuals and those bisexuals who engage in same-sex behavior.
On 2004-JUN-29, a Pentecostal pastor was convicted of directing hate speech against homosexuals during a 2003-JUL-20 sermon in his church. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail by a district court. An appeals court overturned his conviction. However, the prosecutor has appealed the case to the Supreme Court and has asked that the pastor be given a sentence of six months. The Supreme Court heard the case in 2006-NOV and is expected to issue its ruling in 2006.
Many in the conservative Christian community in North America were alarmed at this development. They feared that a similar threat might materialize against their personal freedom to cite their beliefs that homosexual behavior and homosexual orientation are sinful and immoral.
Sweden's parliament, the Riksdag, narrowly passed, on its first reading, a bill which would criminalize "hate speech" which targeted individuals or groups who fall into certain protected classes. 56% of the members voted in favor of the bill. It was initially motivated because of problems of hate speech by neo-Nazis against racial and/or religious minorities. Sentences could result in two years in jail. However, hate speech would also be criminalized under this law if it were directed against people because of their sexual orientation. This was generally reported in the conservative Christian media as "criminalizing 'hate speech' against homosexuals." 1 While this is correct, it is only part of the story. In fact, the bill does not mention homosexuals, only sexual orientation. It would protect heterosexuals, bisexuals and homosexuals equally. However, it would probably be only used to protect gays, lesbians and bisexuals in practice, because hate speech against the dominant sexual orientation -- heterosexuals -- is rare.
Unlike the 2004 hate propaganda law in Canada, commonly referred to as C-250, it offers no exclusions for religiously motivated hate speech. The Swedish bill specifically criminalizes hate speech in "church sermons."
Göran Lambertz is the Swedish chancellor of justice in Sweden. One of his tasks is to monitor civil rights in the country. He sent a note to the Riksdag stated that a pastor delivering a sermon in church who stated that homosexual behavior was sinful "might" be considered as having committed a criminal act under this bill. He subsequently told Christianity Today magazine that the bill focused on "dangerous Nazi campaigning," and not on Christian speech. But he stated that: "The same rules apply everywhere, and I am sure there will be court cases defining [hate speech] also in the religious context."