American pastor Scott Lively

American pastor Scott Lively

The Alien Tort Statute gives foreign nationals the right to sue U.S. citizens or corporations for human rights violations committed overseas. The law goes back hundreds of years but has been historically underutilized in the prosecution of abuses by U.S.-based entities. This could begin to change, however, in the case of Sexual Minorities Uganda v. Lively.

Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), the primary rights group in Uganda, has filed suit against evangelical pastor Scott Lively in U.S. federal court in Springfield, Massachusetts. SMUG has accused Lively of promoting widespread anti-gay sentiment throughout Uganda and assisting in the development of a lethal government policy towards homosexuals in the country.

Representing SMUG is the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which is working to ensure that the group presents a solid case without violating Mr. Lively’s First Amendment right to free speech. This is precisely the argument for the defense—Lively is only expressing himself, even if he is condemning the entire LGBT community. The CCR argues however, that his rhetoric impinges on the safety and security of an already persecuted population, classifying it as a crime against humanity.

The case focuses on a 2009 anti-gay conference in Kampala, “Exposing the Truth About Homosexuality and the Homosexual Agenda,” in which Lively and two other U.S. pastors compared homosexual acts to bestiality and claimed that gay people were primary offenders in the molestation of children.

Lively also preached to the Ugandan parliament which subsequently introduced the Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009—the infamous “Kill the Gays” law. International outcry ensured that this was never passed, but a new version has since been reintroduced in the current session of the Ugandan Parliament.

The homophobia spread to Uganda by American Evangelicals must be blocked before the Parliament passes lethal anti-gay legislation. Advocates hope this case will set international precedent in halting the anti-gay sentiment imported to Uganda and throughout the world.

Renee Lott is an intern at Foreign Policy in Focus.