Suit filed against an American by Ugandan gay rights group for inciting hatred

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By Malissa Rogers

Ugandan-based gay rights group is accusing American Scott Lively in Springfield, Massachusetts’s federal court of violating international law by inciting the persecution of gays and lesbians throughout Uganda. 

For Lively, founder of Abiding Truth Ministries and a Massachusetts evangelical, the hearing was something he said he expected as a Christian, according to the Huffington Post.

“The Bible predicts that Christians would sit in seats like this and have to face these kinds of things,” Lively said. “I’m not surprised and I’m ready to do whatever the Lord has for me to do.”

Pepe Onziema, a transgender gay rights activist who serves as program director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, filed suit against Lively last year under the Alien Tort Statute, which allows non-citizens to bring action against those who violate international law. This lawsuit is the first time the statute has been applied to a case regarding sexual orientation. 

Following court arguments on Monday, U.S. District Judge Michael Ponsor must decide if the court will grant Lively’s motion to dismiss the civil action lawsuit. Part of Lively’s motion to dismiss called into question the court’s jurisdiction under that statute. Judge Ponsor said he wouldn’t address that part of the claim, since the U.S. Supreme Court is considering the statute and may hear this specific case in March.

Judge Ponsor went on to explain that he will consider if Lively’s speech crossed the boundary from First Amendment-protected speech into initiating or causing harm to people.

“As I look at the complaint, I’m frankly struggling to see what the actionable behavior is here,” Ponsor said of the plaintiff’s filing, according to The Associate Press.

The defense argued there’s no link between Lively and his alleged co-conspirators, and that his criticism of homosexuality wasn’t specific enough to constitute such conduct that persecuted gays in Uganda.

The plaintiff argued that Lively had met with Ugandan government leaders and headed a 2009 conference from which the “Kill the Gays” bill emerged. Lively is allegedly a major supporter and conspirator of the bill in Uganda, which initially sought the death penalty for homosexual acts between gays and minors or the disabled and any gay relationship where one partner was infected with HIV. 

The court proceedings arrive as Uganda’s Parliament considers a new bill in February that would punish those who promote gay culture, among other aims.

While the bill would include jail for some offenses, the lawmaker who authored the original bill told AP in November that a new version wouldn’t punish some homosexual acts with death. Parliamentarian David Bahati said the new bill concentrates on protecting children from gay pornography, banning gay marriage, and counseling gays.

After the initial suit was filed, Lively told AP that he never advocated violence against gays and advised that they receive therapy instead of punishment.

“People like myself are stuck,” Lively said in an interview with Current TV in 2010, regarding the death penalty for homosexuals in Uganda. “Am I going to endorse something that goes too far to protect the whole society?”

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