A federal district court in Massachusetts announced on Wednesday it will allow a case to proceed against evangelical Christian Scott Lively for unlawfully fomenting anti-gay sentiment in Uganda and encouraging passage of the country’s pending “Kill the Gays” bill.
In a 79-page decision denying summary judgment in favor of Lively, U.S. District Judge Michael Ponsor refers the case to Magistrate Judge Kenneth Neiman for a pretrial scheduling conference.
“The history and current existence of discrimination against LGBTI people is precisely what qualifies them as a distinct targeted group eligible for protection under international law,” Ponsor writes. “The fact that a group continues to be vulnerable to widespread, systematic persecution in some parts of the world simply cannot shield one who commits a crime against humanity from liability.”
Lively, president of the California-based Abiding Truth Ministries, is known for advocating that gay people should be jailed — even in countries overseas. In 2009, Lively was one of three pastors who went to Uganda to deliver a series of talks on the threat of homosexuality to African society.
According to the New York Times, Lively, in addition to these talks, met with Ugandan lawmakers to discuss the now infamous anti-homosexuality legislation colloquially known as the “Kill the Gays” bill, which in some circumstances would institute the death penalty for homosexual acts. Still, Lively later reportedly said he doesn’t support a bill that includes the death penalty.
The California-based pastor has argued for the criminalization of homosexuality at least since 2007, when he wrote an open letter to the Russian people calling for them to make it illegal. The anti-gay propaganda law that has generated significant outcry in recent weeks is along the lines of what Lively envisioned in the letter.
“My philosophy is to leave homosexuals alone if they keep their lifestyle private, and not to force them into therapy if they don’t want it,” Lively wrote “However, homosexuality is destructive to individuals and to society and it should never publicly promoted. The easiest way to discourage “gay pride” parades and other homosexual advocacy is to make such activity illegal in the interest of public health and morality.”
The lawsuit was filed against Lively in March 2012 by the Massachusetts-based Center for Constitutional Rights on behalf of Sexual Minorities Uganda, or SMUG, a Uganda LGBT group working to stop passage of the Uganda’s anti-homosexuality law.
Frank Mugisha, the director of SMUG, told the Washington Blade he’s “very pleased the court ruled to proceed” with the case against Lively.
“This shows that no one can violate international and abuse human rights,” Mugisha said. “LGBT rights are universal.”
The Center for Constitutional Rights is suing Lively on the basis of state law and the Alien Tort Statute, which allows U.S. courts to hear human-rights cases brought by foreign citizens for conduct committed outside the United States. The organization is seeking compensatory damages, declarative relief that Lively’s actions violated the law of nations and an injunction prohibiting him for engaging in such activity again.
Pam Spees, a senior staff attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, said she’s “elated” the court allowed the case to proceed.
“I think it’s going to have a long-term effect in different places, not only in Uganda, but elsewhere where persecution is happening in this way,” Spees said. “The recognition that LGBT people are entitled to the same protections as anyone else and are entitled to be protected against persecution like any other group is a historic confirmation that this is a basic fundamental principle of international law.”
The social conservative legal firm known as the Liberty Counsel is representing Lively in the case. The organization didn’t immediately respond to the Blade’s request to comment, but Spees said she expects his attorneys to appeal one or more of the grounds the court cited to allow the case to proceed. Resolution to the case, Spees said, could take a number of years.
Mark Bromley, chair of the LGBT international group Council for Global Equality, said the court’s decision to allow the case to proceed “is both persuasive and groundbreaking” because it establishes persecution LGBT people may constitute a crime against humanity.
“This is also a small but important first step in exposing those who seek to export homophobia from the United States to the rest of the world,” Bromley added. “And I hope it serves as a common-sense warning to those political and religious leaders around the world who continue to target LGBT individuals for their own selfish political gain.”