US Evangelical Sued for Inciting Anti-Gay Sentiment in Uganda

It’s so bizarre it can seem funny. But, for some, it’s deadly serious. Uganda’s parliament looks likely to pass a new law that would make homosexuality illegal.

The original bill went so far as to include the death penalty. The controversial nature of Uganda’s proposed anti-gay legislation has attracted some media attention globally, but only now are more details trickling in regarding the influence some American conservative Christians have had in promoting the bill and the anti-gay agenda of some leading Ugandan politicians.

The details are emerging thanks to a lawsuit that has been brought against Massachusetts evangelical Scott Lively, founder and president of Abiding Truth Ministries, for his anti-gay activism in Uganda.

The suit says that Lively’s actions have gone beyond free speech and that he incited the prosecution and limiting of the rights of gays in Uganda. An opponent to homosexuality, Lively once told the Daily Show that homosexuals were ‘exceptionally brutal and savage’ and said that is why they were used by Hitler for fighting.

The organization Sexual Minorities Uganda sued Lively in early 2012 under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS). ATS allows non-US citizens to bring forward cases that involve violations of international law and human rights abuses.

Lively, long active in Uganda, was in attendance at a three-day conference in Uganda that brought together anti-gay activists to devise how to address the perceived problem. Lively was joined by two other American evangelicals at the event, reported Jeffrey Gettlemen.

While in country, Lively spoke out against the problem of homosexuality and met with lawmakers about potential legislation. He penned a reflection after the conference where he talked about the importance of maintaining laws that ban homosexuality. “And remember that homosexuality is literally illegal in this country. Imagine how bad things would be if the criminal law were abandoned,” he wrote.

A few months later, Minister of Parliament David Bahati submitted a bill that would make homosexuality an offense punishable by life in prison or death. The ‘Kill the Gays bill,’ as named by some media sources, led international leaders to condemn it and threaten to withdraw aid funding.

When interviewed about the bill shortly after the bill was introduced, Lively told NPR that he felt it was too harsh.

[M]y advice to the parliament was to go the other direction from what they did to actually go on a proactive positive message promoting the family, promoting marriage, etcetera, through the schools, and that if they were going to continue to criminalize homosexuality that they should focus on rehabilitation and not punishment. And I was very disappointed when the law came out as it is written now with such incredibly harsh punishments.

It was a position that he reiterated on a recent interview with Radio Boston that discussed the case. Lively defended his activism against homosexuality, but distanced himself from the harsh punishment in the legislation. An idea refuted by Center for Constitutional Rights Executive Director, Vince Warren, in the Washington Post. “[H]e peddles the usual, age-old lie that LGBT people are pedophiles in order to deliberately provoke the rage that feeds the growing repression and violence,” wrote Warren.

He argued that the reason for concern was twofold. First, he based his rejection of homosexuality based on his faith and the bible. Second, he argued that sex tourism was a growing industry in Uganda whereby young men were providing services to male travelers. He said he is concerned by the practice and the campaigns to normalize homosexuality.

Reverend Kapya Kaoma, Researcher of religion and sexuality for Political Research Associates, was brought on the program to provide further perspective on the case and what happened at the 2009 conference. He accused Lively of actively telling people and lawmakers in Uganda that “the country should have no tolerance whatsoever on gay rights.”

The bill continues to languish in the Ugandan Parliament. Reports surfaced relatively soon after its introduction that there were considerations to remove the death penalty from the bill. However, it has yet to be officially changed.  It was reintroduced in February of 2012 to applause in Parliament and promises were made to pass it by the end of the year, but it continues to await a vote.

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a Maine-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom found and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy(at)humanosphere.org.