Criminal proceedings are underway in Bremen that revolve around a relationship that has not yet been finally clarified: that of the church and homosexuality. It is not accepted everywhere that the former sin against nature has formed part of creation since time immemorial. In the Bremen Martini congregation, the evangelical pastor Olaf Latzel has been preaching what he sees as the ultimate truth for many years. He advised heterosexual couples to beware of lesbians and gays when they got married: “These criminals are running around everywhere from the CSD (Christopher Street Day), celebrating parties, and the rainbow flag is hanging at the town hall. These are deliberately anti-Christian things that torpedo marriage.”
This, as well as a tirade about “gender filth”, all published on “Youtube”, brought him the accusation of hate speech, from which he has now been acquitted after being convicted in the first instance. The judgment of the regional court, which should not be available in writing until the end of June, will be instructive to study. Because the court has made the unusual effort to obtain expertise on the religious homo issue.
Behold, hardly surprising: Latzel is not an isolated case. They still exist, the Bible faithful, for whom homosexuality is, if not the devil, at least an aberration. Apparently, the court found the insight gained to be so relevant that it largely placed Latzel’s marriage sermon under the protection of religious freedom. He had always defended himself by saying that his disgust was not about homosexuals, but about homosexuality as such. The court credited him with the fact that it was not clear from his statements that he had “insulted, maliciously despised or slandered” gays and lesbians, as required by the offense of incitement to hatred.
Oh well. The acquittal is a provocation because it raises the question of how all of this should be separated. If it is part of religion to be against homosexuality, this opposition will also be expressed in relation to homosexuals. As with Latzel and his assessment that they are criminals, at least when they dance on the street and celebrate rainbow parties. So is practiced homophobia protected by freedom of religion? And what would follow from this for other sermons, such as those of fundamentalist Muslims?
Just as homosexuals are a part of the population, sexuality is also a part of the human being. It is difficult to publicly reject one thing without addressing this rejection to those affected at the same time. Pastor Latzel, as his words show, can’t do it either and probably doesn’t want to either. The public prosecutor appealed against the acquittal to the Higher Regional Court. There you will take a closer look at the considerations of the district court.
Nevertheless, there is no reason to be outraged by the acquittal. Statement offenses belong in a context, and assessing this always carries a subjective note. In principle, the following also applies here: “In case of doubt for the accused”. Latzel’s employer, the Bremen parish, is not bound by such principles. She can fetch her clerk from the pulpit if she wants. So far she hesitates. Should the acquittal become final, the community should not be reassured. Latzel’s words may not be punishable, but they are in no way to be accepted. The pastor doesn’t speak for his church, he damages it.