BERN — Voters in Switzerland have approved a referendum to include so-called sexual orientation in the country’s anti-discrimination statutes, prohibiting public “hate speech” and denigration of homosexuals, as well as inciting hatred through text or images. Violators could face up to three years behind bars.
More than 63 percent of voters approved the referendum on Sunday, with nearly 37 percent voting against. However, voter turnout was stated to be low, with only about 41 percent of registered voters casting their ballot.
According to Deutsche Welle, “Sunday’s referendum decided on legislation to specifically outlaw hate speech and discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation with jail terms of up to three years.”
Jurist also reports, “The new provision will prohibit public statements or actions that violate the human dignity of a person or group and which therefore incite a climate of hatred and endanger the peaceful coexistence of society. It will also be an offence to refuse to provide someone with a service that is publicly on offer because of their sexual orientation.”
The law will not apply to private discussions between friends and family, or public debate on the topic of discrimination.
The National Council voted 118-60 in 2018 to amend Article 216 bis of the Criminal Code of Switzerland to include homosexuals in an existing law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, or religion. Mathias Reynard of the Swiss Socialist Party told reporters that he proposed the addition because he has friends who have been “victims of verbal and physical homophobic violence.”
“And working on this law I found out that the Swiss case-law doesn’t punish either hate speech or incitement to hatred towards LGBT+ people,” he told Shortlist. “During the last few years, this loophole in the law has been pointed out several times at an international level.”
“Homophobia is not an opinion. It’s a crime,” he said following the Oct. 2018 vote. “One in five homosexuals attempted suicide, half before the age of 20. This victory sends a strong signal.”
However, those who opposed the move took up petitions, enough to hold a public referendum on the matter.
Among those who stood against the proposed law was the Swiss Evangelical Alliance, which released a statement last month entitled “Against Hatred, for Freedom of Expression.”
“As a network of Protestant churches, Christian organizations and individuals, the Swiss Evangelical Alliance condemns all forms of hatred and violence towards people of all sexual orientations. Such behavior is not compatible with Christian ethics. However, it must still be possible, according to the understanding of the Bible, to take a critical stance on certain lifestyles and to advocate the privilege of marriage between men and women over other forms of partnership,” it wrote.
“And this is one of the main weaknesses of the revision of the law,” the organization said. “According to legal opinions, public statements in this direction or the refusal to provide benefits to the relevant persons (groups) could have criminal consequences in the future.”
The Alliance expressed concern over the subjective nature of the decision-maker analyzing a statement, noting that the law “would open the door to sometimes arbitrary accusations and charges.”
According to Evangelical Focus, the Protestant Church of Switzerland (EKS), which is liberal in its teachings, conversely supported the change to the law and encouraged others to vote yes on the referendum.
THE AKE GREEN CASE
Such laws, or the interpretation and application of them, have already seen serious consequences for Christians in other countries.
In 2004, Swedish pastor Ake Green was sentenced to one month in prison for showing “disrespect” toward homosexuals over a sermon he had delivered at his church in Borgholm in July 2003, which was soon printed in a local newspaper.
“Scripture considers any kind of sexual relationship outside of the bonds of marriage as loose living. The Scripture characterizes it as fornication,” he preached. “The marriage institution is also clearly defined in Genesis 2:24, where it says, ‘Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.'”
“Only man and wife are referred to here. It is not stated any other way; you can never imply or interpret it to mean that you can have whatever [sexual] partner you wish to have,” Green said.
“With Sodom and Gomorrah in mind, Jesus says [that] if they had heard the same message as Capernaum, they would have repented [Matthew 11 :23-24]. Jesus is saying that you have to repent. Jesus’ view of homosexuality is a call to repentance,” he later stated.
“They have washed their robes and made them white; [thereby] they stand before the throne of God,” Green declared, offering hope at the conclusion. “There is a purifier. Nobody has to be defeated by sexual immorality. Nobody has to say: ‘I have such a losing battle in this area.’ Everybody can be set free and delivered. You can receive it if you want it.”
Green was charged under a 2002 criminal law, which states, “Anyone who, through expression or other form of communication that is spread, threatens or expresses disrespect for a group of people or other such groups of persons with reference to race, color, national or ethnic origin, confession of faith or sexual orientation, is sentenced for instigation against a group of people to prison up to two years or, if the crime is minor, to fines.”
He appealed his conviction and was acquitted in 2005 by a court of appeals — a ruling that was upheld by the Supreme Court of Sweden.