By: Tynan Power/TRT Reporter–
On Wednesday, March 14th, a lawsuit was filed by New York’s Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) in the U.S. District Court in Springfield, Massachusetts, against Pastor Scott Lively. The charge: “crime against humanity of persecution.”
Timed to coincide with the filing, a rally and march was organized by Stop the Hate, an organization of local LGBT-rights advocates formed soon after Lively’s presence in Springfield became known. Lively is the owner of Holy Grounds Coffee House on State Street in Springfield. He also is the founder of Abiding Truth Ministries, which has been named a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“I am here today to ask Scott Lively to please take of your Christian mask,” said Rev. Charla Kouadio, pastor of Christ’s Community Church in Chicopee, to those gathered for the Stop the Hate rally. “Your behavior has not been Christ-like. Authentic Christianity is: loving God with all your heart and loving your neighbor as yourself.”
The charges filed Wednesday stem from Lively’s anti-gay activities—not in Springfield, but in Uganda.
CCR filed the case against Lively on behalf of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), a Ugandan umbrella organization supporting the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people. In the filing, Lively is charged with waging a “decade-long campaign […] to persecute persons on the basis of their gender and/or sexual orientation and gender identity.”
Despite the fact that the alleged persecution of LGBT people occurs outside the U.S., the federal court has jurisdiction to hear the case against Lively.
“It happens all the time, actually,” said Pamela Spees, an attorney for CCR who spoke at the rally. “We have laws that allow us to file lawsuits in cases that violate international law.”
Under the Alien Tort Statute of federal law, cases can be brought against people whose actions are “committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.” According to the documents filed in Sprinfield by CCR, the crime of “persecution” is clearly defined—and prohibited—in international law.
In 2009, Lively addressed Ugandan parliament members at a conference organized to oppose the gay rights movement in the country. Soon after Lively’s visit, legislators crafted the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which would impose the death penalty on those found guilty of homosexuality. The Bill drew international attention and criticism; at present, it has not been passed into law. Yet lives have already been endangered—and ended—in what many believe is anti-LGBT fervor prompted by the Bill.
One such life was that of David Kato, an Advocacy Officer for SMUG. Kato was found bludgeoned to death in his home in 2010, shortly after his name was listed in a Ugandan tabloid under the headline “Hang them.”
Kato’s memory was visibly present on Wednesday, his name and image emblazoned on a black coffin carried upright at the front of a march of LGBT-rights advocates from the courthouse to Lively’s coffee house. The peaceful march was silent except for a slow drumbeat.
“We will remain silent. If anyone tries to speak with us, we will remain silent. If we need to communicate, we will gesture,” said Holly Richardson of Out Now before the march.
Many donned black clothing and white featureless masks for the march.
“It’s a funeral procession,” Richardson explained. “Like the dead walking.”
In addition to the black coffin representing Kato, other coffins were carried and a variety of signs listed names and stories of other Ugandans whose lives have been impacted by anti-LGBT sentiment. Along the way, curious onlookers snapped pictures and drew close to read the signs. The signs were placed along with flowers in front of Lively’s coffee house, then collected again when the marchers turned back towards the courthouse.
A number of people inside the coffee house remained at the door watching, but did not seek to interact with the protestors. One man, wearing a T-shirt bearing the words “ALL THAT MATTERS,” a cross and the citation “JOHN 3:16”, identified himself as “Brother Lee” and spoke quietly about the support he has received from Lively.
Lively did not make an appearance or respond to the march. (View More Photos of the March and Speakers here!)