Liberty Counsel to Represent Anti-Gay Activist in Uganda Lawsuit

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Liberty Counsel, an "international nonprofit litigation, education, and policy organization dedicated to advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and the family since 1989, by providing pro bono assistance and representation on these and related topics," has agreed to represent a man named Scott Lively (pictured), who is one of the most notorious anti-gay activists in the nation, and whose organization, Abiding Truth Ministries, has been listed as a "hate group" by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Lively is being sued in the United States by a Uganda gay rights group called Sexual Minorities of Uganda, which alleges that he was directly instrumental in the creation of a still-pending bill in Uganda that used to contain a death sentence provision for certain acts—but still imposes severe prison sentences for engaging in gay sex—and that his advocacy work in Uganda beginning in 2002, in conjunction with fellow American anti-gay pastors and local anti-gay pastors, for laws that would criminalize not just homosexuality but the advocacy of homosexuality, incited direct persecution against gays in the country. The lawsuit was filed under the Alien Tort Claims Act on behalf of Sexual Minorities Uganda by The Center for Constitutional Rights.

Lively has said that he deplored the death penalty provision in the Ugandan law, but has never denied that he supports legal sanctions against gays along the lines of laws against marijuana possession or other lesser, though still criminal, offenses. He also says he does not hate homosexuals, but in a sermon delivered January 15, told the faithful that the scriptures claim homosexuality is "the most egregious of sins, and the core of the apostate culture of the end time," and, of course, a global threat.

It is this belief that the "homosexual agenda" represents a threat to all of mankind that has sent Lively to countries he sometimes correctly believes will be more receptive to his campaign to criminalize acts associated with homosexuality and support for the community than in the States.

Which brings us to Liberty Counsel. According to its website, the group "provides pro bono legal assistance in the areas of religious liberty, the sanctity of human life and the family. Liberty Counsel's Board of Directors has adopted a Christian doctrinal statement, but Liberty Counsel does not limit its services to Christians, as the rights of Christians are affected positively by defending the rights of others."

The question for Liberty is whether defending someone who would deny the rights of others is consistent with the their doctrinal statement, or the teachings of Jesus, for that matter. Though the answer is self-evident, they are taking the case, which they say is about protecting Lively's right to free speech.

"This lawsuit against Rev. Scott Lively is a gross attempt to use a vague international law to silence, and eventually criminalize, speech by U.S. citizens on homosexuality and moral issues," said " Mathew Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel, in a press release announcing their legal support. “ This suit should cause everyone to be concerned, because it a direct threat against freedom of speech.” 

The plaintiffs in the suit, on the other hand, assert that Lively, who is an attorney as well as a pastor, is being legally targeted for his actions and not just how words.

"[Lively] long ago set out a very specific and detailed methodology for stripping away the most basic human rights protections, to silence and ultimately disappear LGBT people," said Pam Spees, an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights. "Unfortunately, he found willing accomplices and fertile ground in Uganda."

And in a press release issued March 14 by CCR announcing the filing of the lawsuit in federal court, the group said of the defendant's time in Uganda, "Scott Lively has been working with anti-gay forces in Uganda since 2002. In March 2009, Lively, along with two other U.S. Evangelical leaders, headlined a three-day conference intended to expose the 'gay movement' as an 'evil institution' and a danger to children. Lively likened the effects of his advocacy to a 'nuclear bomb' in Uganda and stated that he hopes it is replicated elsewhere. The Anti-Homosexuality Bill emerged one month later with provisions that reflected Lively’s input. As in Uganda, Lively aims to criminalize LGBT advocacy elsewhere and has worked with religious and political leaders in Russia, Moldova and Latvia to that end. He states he has spoken on the topic of homosexuality in almost 40 countries and advises that 'the easiest way to discourage ‘gay pride’ parades and other homosexual advocacy is to make such activity illegal.' An anti-gay bill that prevents speech and advocacy around LGBT rights was passed and signed into law last week in St. Petersburg, Russia, and went into effect on Sunday."

Lively is also the author of The Pink Swastika, which he describes as "a thoroughly researched, eminently readable, demolition of the 'gay' myth, symbolized by the pink triangle, that the Nazis were anti-homosexual."

This is a case to keep an eye on, as it contains many of the same elements found in the current debate over contraception, gay marriage and even pornography, including the claim of religious repression by individuals and institutions actively working to deny basic rights to others because of their gender or sexual orientation. Lively is as yet a relative unknown on the national scene, but that could change as the rhetoric and tactics utilized by Liberty Counsel are replicated and repeated by others as news of this lawsuit spreads.

Indeed, if comments made in the press relase issued by Libetry Counsel yesterday are any indication of the troubling manner in which they intend to conduct this case in court as well as in the court of public opinion, it's going to be a long, hot summer.

The Murder of David Kato

The complaint in Sexual Minority Uganda v Lively contains one sentence only on the death of David Koto. "Kato was killed in his home, just over one year ago, on January 26, 2011," it reads.

The Liberty Counsel press release also contains a reference to Kato. "The lawsuit claims that beginning in 2002, Rev. Lively preached in Ugandan churches and shared his opinion on homosexuality and pornography. It further claims that as a result (albeit a convoluted one), some members of the so-called LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex) community faced discrimination, and one (SMUG Advocacy Director David Kato) was killed on January 26, 2011. The suit leaves out the fact that the suspected killer is a male prostitute with whom Kato had sex and refused to pay."

In characterizing the murder of Kato as a prostitution arrangement gone wrong, Liberty may have been referring to an article in Uganda's Daily Mirror on Feb. 3, 2011, one week after the Kato killing, reporting on the arrest of an unnamed suspect in the murder.

"A police source, who preferred anonymity because he is not authorised to talk to the press, said the suspect confessed to killing Kato because he was reportedly tired of engaging in homosexual practices," the paper reported.

“We have taken him to Mukono Magistrate’s Court to record an extrajudicial statement,” the source said. “He told us that he killed Kato after he failed to give him a car, a house and money he promised as rewards for having sex with him."

However, the article does not refer to the suspect as a "male prostitute, and on March 4, the same paper relayed a very different story told by the suspect, who had by then been identified as 22-year-old Enock Nsubuga Balibagga.

"Mr Nsubuga said he did not intend to kill Kato, adding that he was only trying to defend himself," the paper reported, quoting the killer as saying, "'Kato wanted me to be his lover which I completely refused because I was not pleased with what he was doing to fellow men.' He added that on that fateful day, he went to Kato’s place to pay him a visit but upon reaching there, Kato tried to force him into sex.

"'He locked the door and increased the volume of his radio such that no other person could hear as I tried to scream for help. He undressed me and started romancing me and as I tried to defend myself I accidentally hit him on the head with the hammer,' Nsubuga said." Again, no mention of male prostitution.

And yet a completely different story of the killing was presented during the trial. In a Nov. 11, 2011 Daily Monitor article on the 30 year sentence handed down to the killer, who was then identified as Sidney Nsubuga Enoch, 22, there is again no mention of the killer being a "male prostitute," or that the killing was over unpaid-for sex. Rather, it is described as a murder committed in retaliation for sexual advances made by Kato.

"While in the bathroom," the prosecutor told the court, "Nsubuga picked up a hammer, came back to the living room and hit the deceased on the back of the head twice."

But, of course, Liberty Counsel prefers to believe the first never-repeated or corroborated story relayed by an unnamed police source in the immediate aftermath of the arrest of a suspect who instantly confesses to the murder of a nationally known gay rights activist in a country known for its hostility to gays, which had just passed perhaps the world's most pernicious anti-gay law, and whose murder made global news and even prompted a comment by the President of the United States.

And then Liberty repeats the never-corroborated story as "fact."

That's how these people fight their fights; dirty, like their hearts and minds.