Acquittal for German pastor Latzel
The Bremen District Court in Germany has dropped all charges against the Rev. Olaf Latzel on Friday morning. At first instance, he was fined for insulting homosexuals.
After three days of negotiations, the chamber, chaired by Judge Hendrik Göhner, agreed with the defence's demand and overturned the first-instance verdict. Prosecutors had asked for confirmation of the guilty verdict from November 2020.
Latzel did not act intentionally and attacked social concepts with his words, not specific people, according to the judges. He does not incite hatred. The theologian argued from the Bible.
The court did not consider it proven that the 54-year-old evangelical pastor of the Bremen St.-Martini congregation made homophobic and hate speech in a marriage seminar, that was temporarily published as audio file on YouTube. The District Court of the Hanseatic city had sentenced Latzel to three months in prison for his words in November 2020, converted to a fine of 90 daily rates of 90 euros (8100 euros).
In motivating the ruling, the judge went through all the controversial statements that Rev. Latzel made in 2019 during a marriage seminar in his congregation. These statements on homosexuality and gender ideology must be viewed in the context in which Mr Latzel used them at the time, according to the judge.
On Friday morning, the court ruled that anyone examining this context would have to conclude that the Bremen Court had wrongly classified the statements as incitement to hatred. There is nothing to indicate that Latzel, neither at the internal meeting in 2019 in his own congregation nor afterwards, deliberately wanted to incite a wider audience to hatred against gays or transgender people.
According to the court, it is also relevant that the remarks of the Bremen pastor are covered by the fundamental right to religious freedom.
The verdict is not yet final. The prosecutor has one week to announce appeal before the Higher Regional Court of Bremen.
"Anti-human values of evangelicals"
During the Friday session, some supporters of the queer movement demonstrated in front of the court building. "Latzel is the figurehead of a whole movement of right-wing political evangelical Christians - and represents their anti-human values," they declared.
Latzel's lawyer, Dr Sascha Böttner, reacted with relief and joy to the acquittal on Friday morning. He praised the thorough fact-finding carried out by the court over the past few weeks, during which most of the controversial marriage seminar was rehearsed sentence by sentence. As far as Böttner was concerned, the court did not really need to bring in the religious freedom angle. "Certainly, we have religious freedom in Germany. That is an important fundamental right, also in this case. But the crux of the matter is that Rev Latzel was convicted one and a half years ago of incitement. The Landgericht has now shown this to be untrue. I think that is enough."
"Diabolical and satanic"
The conservative minister had been sued by a gay advocacy group and by his own church, the Bremen Evangelische Kirche, for statements he had made in 2019 in a marriage seminar for members of his own congregation, the St.-Martini Church in Bremen.
These included the statement that "all this gender filth is an attack on God's creation order, and is deeply diabolical and satanic." Furthermore, Rev. Latzel said two and a half years ago that expressions of homosexuality "are all degenerative forms of society, which have their roots in godlessness." And also that "this diabolical gay lobby is getting stronger and stronger and more massive", and that "these criminals of Christopher Street Day (German designation for the gay pride, ed.) are running around everywhere."
At the beginning of the appeal, Latzel emphasised that he opposed homosexuality and gender mainstreaming, but not homosexual people. He sees himself bound by the Word of God, which condemns homosexuality. He had apologised several times for ambiguous statements: "I didn't want to and won't discredit anyone as a human being." That doesn't fit with his Christian image of man. He says an "absolute yes to every homosexual".
Mr Latzel appealed against his conviction in 2020. The Bremen Regional Court took four days to hear the appeal. After hearings on 9 May, 13 May and 16 May, the judge ruled on Friday.
Latzel has been pastor of St.-Martini since the end of 2007.
The case against Mr Latzel was somehow comparable with two other cases in Europe. In Finland, the prosecutors tried the Member of Parliament Mrs Päivi Räsänen for insulting homosexuals. In March, the judges dropped the charges against her. The prosecutor has announced appeal.
In the Netherlands, the church minister Rev Anton Kort was accused for the same. But the prosecutor decided to drop that case. After protest, the judge decided that the prosecutor was right.
Will the judge in Germany say how Mr Latzel should read the Bible?
Pastor Latzel: I do not oppose homosexuals