U.S. evangelist faces trial for crimes against humanity

Lisa Neff, Staff writer

Two out of the five men in the running for the title of Bigot of the Year in the U.K. are evangelical exporters of hate from the United States – Pat Robertson and Scott Lively.

The aging Robertson, who most recently claimed on his Christian Broadcasting Network that San Francisco gays wear special rings to cut people and transmit HIV, seems suited for a lifetime “achievement” award in the category. Lively, meanwhile, is leading the pack of this year’s nominees representing “the most hateful spokespeople for the anti-gay movement,” according to Stonewall, the presenters of the award. Also to be presented at the seventh annual ceremony in London on Nov. 7 are awards for Hero of the Year and Politician of the Year.

“The Stonewall Awards are a fantastic opportunity to celebrate the achievements of so many individuals who’ve made a real difference,” said Laura Doughty, deputy chief executive director at the LGBT civil rights group. The group is marking a historic year that included passage of a marriage equality bill for England and Wales.

“Sadly,” she added, “the contrast between those who’ve made a positive difference and those who simply seek to demean and degrade gay people and their families has never been more stark. That’s why all five of our Bigot of the Year nominees deserve their places on the list.”

Lively was nominated for aggressively exporting homophobia around the globe.

Accused in the U.S. and abroad

Lively stands accused of crimes against humanity in a case that was filed in March 2012 in federal court in Massachusetts. It’s the first case of its kind, brought by the U.S.-based Center for Constitutional Rights under the Alien Tort Statute on behalf of Sexual Minorities of Uganda, a Uganda-based coalition of LGBT advocacy organizations

The complaint alleges that Lively’s actions over the past decade in collaboration with government and religious officials in Uganda led to increased violence, inspired the “Kill the Gays” bill and deprived LGBT Ugandans of fundamental human rights.

In his effort to inflame hatred against LGBT people, Lively has falsely claimed gays were partially responsible for the Holocaust and genocide in Rwanda. He’s authored two books that set forth a plan to repress the “gay movement,” which Lively has described as the “most dangerous social and political movement of our time,” according to the complaint. He visited Uganda in 2009, hosting a seminar on “exposing the homosexual agenda” and pressing parliamentarians, police officers, teachers, journalists and ministers to act.

Lively is represented by the Liberty Counsel, a Virginia-based Christian-right legal defense fund. In January, announcing the LC’s role in the case, Liberty Counsel founder Mathew Staver said, “What SMUG cavalierly labels as ‘crimes against humanity’ – the most heinous of all crimes – is actually nothing more than civil, peaceful, political discourse in the public square on a subject of great public concern.”

The defense’s first move was to ask the judge to dismiss the lawsuit by arguing that the court lacked jurisdiction and that the First Amendment protected Lively’s work.

Judge Michael Ponsor, however, denied motions for dismissal in August and affirmed CCR’s argument that the fundamental human rights of LGBT people are protected under international law. 

“Widespread, systematic persecution of LGBT people constitutes a crime against humanity that unquestionably violates international norms,” Ponsor wrote. “The history and current existence of discrimination against LGBT people is precisely what qualifies them as a distinct targeted group eligible for protection under international law. The fact that a group continues to be vulnerable to widespread, systematic persecution in some parts of the world simply cannot shield one who commits a crime against humanity from liability.”

Frank Mugisha, the director of SMUG, said the ruling was a victory for “human rights everywhere but most especially the LGBT Ugandans who are seeking accountability from those orchestrating our persecution.”

CCR attorney Pam Spees said the court recognized “the gravity of the danger faced by our clients as a result of Scott Lively’s actions. Lively’s single-minded campaign has worked to criminalize their very existence, strip away their fundamental rights and threaten their physical safety.”

The case against the evangelist is now in the discovery phase.

Lively remains undaunted. He maintains the case is an attempt to criminalize his religious views.

“Scott Lively can hide behind claims of religious freedom all he wants, but when religious opinions turn into institutional oppression and violence against minority groups, we are no longer talking about the First Amendment,” stated Evan Hurst, associate director of Truth Wins Out, a Vermont-based group founded to counter anti-gay propaganda and expose the ex-gay myth. “Spreading demonizing lies about LGBT people is not a tenet of any religion I’ve ever heard of, and it’s certainly not a feature of Christianity.”

From beggar to bully

Lively, in an autobiography on the website for Scott Lively Ministries, wrote, “On Feb. 1, 1986, I surrendered my life to Jesus Christ on my knees by myself in an alcohol treatment facility in Portland, Ore.”

He said he arrived in Portland after 16 years of addiction, “drifting around the United States, often homeless, sometimes sleeping under bridges and begging for spare change on street-corners.”

Lively had grown up in Shelburne Falls, Mass., where his childhood apparently came to an abrupt end when he was 16 years old. He watched his father, “in a state of extreme psychosis, engage in an armed standoff with the state police … over an incident involving my dropping out of school.”

The roamer settled in Portland, where he said Jesus, serving as his “higher power,” reunited him with his estranged wife. He said he “received my ministry when a pro-life activist showed me pictures of aborted babies,” and he was brought into the fold of the Oregon Citizens Alliance, the largest statewide Christian right group in the country, with Lon Mabon as the leader. 

No formal education

In his autobiography, Lively said within a few weeks of meeting Mabon in 1989 and “having no formal education or experience, I became the State Communications Director.”

In 1991, when the OCA shifted its focus to driving an anti-gay ballot measure, Lively also shifted his focus: “I knew very little about the issue, but over the next several years had my eyes opened to things very few Christians have ever seen or experienced. I realized that homosexuality was even more destructive to society than abortion.”

The evangelist, who resides today in Springfield, Mass., and may run for governor in the next election cycle, said he spent the next dozen years accumulating the “skills and credentials” he needed to become a “prominent leader in the now global pro-family movement.”

In 2006 and 2007, Lively toured extensively in Russia and in Eastern European countries, promoting anti-LGBT policies and, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, describing “the gay movement as the most dangerous political movement on earth.”

He recently praised Russian President Vladimir Putin’s signing of a national measure banning gay “propaganda.”

“As the United States and the United Kingdom morph slowly into a ‘gay’ version of the Soviet Union, an unlikely hero of family values has emerged: Russian President Vladimir Putin,” Lively wrote on his blog at scottlively.net. “In a stunning reversal of roles, the Russian Bear has become the defender of Christian civilization against the Cultural-Marxist American Eagle and British Lion.

“While America and Britain compete to see how fast they can turn their children into Sodomites, Russia has banned homosexual propaganda to youth. While the ‘mainstream’ American and British press publish only pro-‘gay’ puffery and propaganda, Russia’s Pravda has become a counter-balance to their lies.”

The evangelist has taken some credit for Russia’s national law, as well as similar measures enacted at regional levels. His blog post praising Putin closes with the statement: “During a 50-city speaking tour of the former Soviet Union in 2006 and 2007, and in his Letter to the Russian People, published in St. Petersburg at the close of the tour, Dr. Lively advocated for the criminalization of ‘gay’ propaganda to children, a policy which has since been adopted by the Russian government.”

TWO’s Hurst said, “We are now seeing the fruits of the work of Scott Lively and others like him in Uganda, Russia and other nations where American fundamentalists have been active, and it’s not pretty.”

But, he added, there’s hope that the case against Lively will expose his “sinister actions” as the “crimes against humanity that they are.”