A federal court has dismissed an LGBT group's lawsuit against pastor and activist Scott Lively, who was accused of engaging in a "decade-long campaign" of persecution against LGBT people in Uganda because he voiced his biblical opposition to homosexuality.
On Monday, Judge Michael Ponsor of the United States District Court of Massachusetts dismissed a lawsuit filed by the Kampala-based advocacy group Sexual Minorities Uganda in 2012 that accused Lively of engaging in "crimes against humanity" for his advocacy against homosexuality in Uganda that dates back to 2002.
Some have accused Lively, president of Abiding Truth Ministries, of playing "an unparalleled role in fostering the climate of hate that gave rise to Uganda's anti-gay law," which briefly made homosexuality punishable by life in prison in the African nation and was later struck down in the judiciary.
Using the Alien Tort Statute, SMUG, which was represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights, sued Lively on grounds that he contributed to "the conspiracy to persecute LGBTI persons in Uganda." The lawsuit contends that because of Lively's actions, many SMUG staff members and the community it represents "have suffered severe deprivations of fundamental rights."
"Spurred to action to counter the prospect of basic legal protections for LGBTI individuals, Lively and his co-conspirators, [Stephen] Langa, [Martin] Ssempa, Minister of Ethics and Integrity James Buturo and member of Parliament David Bahati, coordinated a dramatic, far-reaching response, which Lively and Langa would later boast had the 'effect of a nuclear bomb,'" the lawsuit claimed.
"Lively's 2009 work in Uganda and his call to arms to fight against an 'evil' and 'genocidal,' 'pedophilic' 'gay movement,' which he likened to the Nazis and Rwandan murderers, ignited a cultural panic and atmosphere of terror that radically intensified the climate of hatred in which Lively's goals of persecution could advance," the lawsuit continued. "Shortly after Lively's pivotal 2009 work in Uganda, one member of Parliament expressed, 'We must exterminate homosexuals before they exterminate society.'"
Although Ponsor is an LGBT supporter and expressed sympathy with SMUG's accusations, he had no choice but to grant Lively a motion for summary judgment and dismiss the case because "the record reveals that Defendant supplied no financial backing to the detestable campaign in Uganda, he directed no physical violence, he hired no employees, and he provided no supplies or other material support."
"His most significant efforts on behalf of the campaign occurred within Uganda itself, when he appeared at conferences, meetings, and media events," Posnor wrote in the court order. "The emails sent from the United States providing advice, guidance, and rhetorical support for the campaign on the part of others in Uganda simply do not rise to the level of 'force' sufficient to displace the presumption against extraterritorial application."
However, Posnor asserted in his ruling that "the question before the court is not whether Defendant's actions in aiding and abetting efforts to demonize, intimidate, and injure LGBTI people in Uganda constitute violations of international law."
"They do," Posnor contended, adding that the court was only faced with "the much narrower and more technical question posed by Defendant's motion is whether the limited actions taken by Defendant on American soil in pursuit of his odious campaign are sufficient to give this court jurisdiction over Plaintiff's claims. Since they are not sufficient, summary judgment is appropriate for this, and only this, reason."
The Liberty Counsel, a law firm devoted to protecting religious freedom rights and defended lively in the case, praised Posnor's decision to dismiss the case.
"This is a victory for the Constitution and the rule of law," Liberty Counsel Chairman Mat Staver said in a statement. "[A]ll Christians should celebrate the end of a lawsuit intended only to intimidate an innocent pastor into silence. But the court's open display of activism in deriding Lively's beliefs reminds us of the threats American Christians continue to face from a judiciary that is increasingly hostile to any expression of biblical truth to a decaying culture."
Despite the case's dismissal, SMUG still considers the judge's statements to constitute a victory for the organization.
"This case is a win for SMUG," the group's executive director, Frank Mugisha, said in a statement. "The court's ruling recognized the dangers resulting from the hatred that Scott Lively and other extremist Christians from the U.S. have exported to my country. By having a court recognize that persecution of LGBTI people amounts to a crime against humanity, we have already been able to hold Lively to account and reduce his dangerous influence in Uganda."
CCR Senior Staff Attorney Pamela Spees also stated that the "ruling clearly vindicates what SMUG and the LGBTI community in Uganda have known and said all along about Lively and his role in Uganda."
Although the case was dismissed, the Liberty Counsel maintains that Posnor should have dismissed this case in 2013.
"In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court issued the deathblow to SMUG's lawsuit by ruling that the ATS was never intended to allow a foreign citizen to sue a U.S. citizen in America alleging violation of some supposed international law. Scores of pending cases around the country were dismissed following the 2013 Supreme Court ruling in Kiobel, but the one not dismissed was the SMUG case," a Liberty Counsel press release states.
"Judge Ponsor has a long history of support for the LGBT agenda and said he considers judges 'the unappointed legislators of mankind.' Instead of dismissing the case in 2013, as it should have been, Ponsor opened the door for extensive and needless discovery.
"[H]e let his personal bias against pro-family values and support of the LGBT agenda slip into what should otherwise have been a straight legal opinion. Legally, Judge Ponsor had no choice on the law. The Supreme Court had clearly spoken. But what he did in his opinion is unbecoming by hurling names at Pastor Lively. None of the evidence supports any of the allegations."
Following the dismissal, Lively thanked God "for his deliverance from this outrageous and malicious litigation" that was "designed solely to silence my voice for biblical truth on LGBT issues and to cause me pain and suffering for daring to speak against the 'gay' agenda."
"I thank Judge Michael Ponsor, as well, for overcoming his clear ideological bias enough to acknowledge the legal deficiency of SMUG's case and bring it to a close — even though he had the option four years ago to dismiss this case following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that slammed the door shut on SMUG'S specious legal reasoning," Lively said in a statement.