On Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Michael Ponsor held a hearing in Springfield, Massachusetts on whether to dismiss a case brought against notorious anti-gay activist Scott Lively by the Center for Constitutional Rights on behalf of Sexual Minorities Uganda. The suit uses the Alien Tort Statute to charge Lively with crimes against humanity for his activism encouraging persecution and denial of basic rights to LGBT people in Uganda.
The introduction of and controversy over draconian anti-gay legislation has stirred violence and government repression of LGBT advocacy. At a rally outside the courthouse covered by Melanie Nathan for LGBTQ Nation, Ugandan Pepe Onziema told activists he had come to Massachusetts “to face the devil.”
“Coming face to face with the man who has caused us so much pain is important to me. We want him held accountable for the escalating homophobia and persecution in Uganda. This case is about making it clear to people who have exported their hate agenda to Uganda that their actions have a very real effect on us and they must stop.” said Onziema.
Lively, who is widely credited with “inspiring” the “kill the gays” bill that Parliament could consider in February, is represented by the Liberty Counsel, a conservative evangelical legal group affiliated with Jerry Falwell-founded Liberty University, and itself home to some of the most anti-gay activists in the public arena. Lively’s lawyer, Harry Mihet, said in an online conversation hosted by The Huffington Post on Tuesday that the case is “ridiculous and frivolous.” He echoed claims that Liberty Counsel has been making that the lawsuit is an effort to silence Lively and others for expressing their personal beliefs about homosexuality.
CCR Attorney Pam Spees countered that Lively’s work in Uganda has gone well beyond the expression of personal beliefs to active encouragement of anti-LGBT persecution, which has led to violence and oppression.
According to a news report in The Republican newspaper, during the 90-minute hearing Ponsor “said he was troubled by the lack of connection between anti-gay rhetoric of local evangelist Scott Lively and acts of oppression against gays in Uganda.” But Ponsor also “expressed skepticism about Lively’s request to dismiss the case before trial, noting that the courts have set a high legal threshold for throwing out cases.”
Paul LeGendre of Human Rights First said the lawsuit was just one type of strategy being deployed against anti-LGBT legislation, and said the United States “has an important role to play” in defending LGBT people against human rights abuses. Of course, American officials’ opposition to the anti-gay bill in Uganda has itself earned the ire of some American evangelicals.
Ponsor said he would rule soon on Lively’s motion to dismiss the case.