How the process against Latzel dragged on for three years


Central Europe

Addy de Jong, RD

Pastor Latzel in front of the St Martini Church in Bremen. Photo RD

Court X fined him. Court Y later acquitted him. Court Z crossed out that acquittal on Thursday. Thus, the trial against Rev Olaf Latzel has dragged on for over three years. Six questions about an important court case.

Where did this all start again?

During a marriage seminar the pastor of the conservative Martini Church in Bremen held for his congregation members in October 2019. Speaking about the importance of Biblical marriage, pastor Latzel also commented on the zeitgeist, gender ideology and homosexuality. He spoke of "gender filth" that is "profoundly satanic" and referred to gay activists as "these criminals of Christopher Street Day who are walking around everywhere".

With the agreement of the pastor, one of the church members put the audio recording of the marriage seminar on the internet. This was followed by a denunciation by organisers of the gay pride in Bremen and by Rev Latzel's own denomination, the Bremer Evangelische Kirche (BEK).

In November 2020, Ambtsgericht Bremen declared the preacher guilty of sedition. It sentenced him to a fine of €8100.

But didn't another judge acquit him later?

That's right. Pastor Latzel appealed in 2020. That led to a higher court, the Landgericht Bremen, acquitting him in May 2022. His statements made in 2019 fell under freedom of religion, according to judge Hendrik Göhner. The Landgericht also deemed it unproven that the pastor had deliberately incited a broader audience to hatred against gays or transgender people at the internal meeting for his congregation.

Okay, so all's well that ends well for Mr Latzel?

No, because the public prosecutor (OM) appealed against this acquittal. So this week, a revision application was filed with another higher court, the Hanseatisches Oberlandesgericht Bremen. The Oberlandesgericht did not revisit the substance of the case and did not hear any new witnesses but only looked at whether the Landgericht might have made procedural errors in 2022.

The judge's conclusion on Thursday was that it is not sufficiently clear how the Landgericht reached its acquittal last year. He called this acquittal -according to the German news agency Idea- "incomplete", pointed out that freedom of religion has limits and argued that someone "may reject homosexuality, but no one may do so in a way that incites people". According to him, for a statement to be punishable, "the form and choice of words are decisive".

Earlier that day, Florian Maaß, the representative of the public prosecutor's office in Bremen, had argued that the Landgericht had selectively highlighted certain statements from Rev Latzel's comments last year and left out other lengthy passages. According to Maaß, answering whether incitement to hatred was punishable would have required a complete account of Rev Latzel's speech in the grounds of the judgment.

Either way, Thursday's hearing resulted in the Oberlandesgericht, to Rev Latzel's dismay, crossing out last year's acquittal.

What does that mean in practice?

It means that the Oberlandesgericht put the case back on the plate of the lower court, the Landgericht Bremen. There, but now with other judges, the case has to be done over again. The Landgericht must therefore hear pastor Latzel's appeal against the fine imposed on him for the second time in-depth, substantively, and with the hearing of witnesses. When that will happen is not known at present.

Is there nothing to argue against the reasoning of the Oberlandesgericht and the prosecution?

Indeed, there is. For instance, one of Rev Latzel's two lawyers, Dr Sascha Böttner, argued on Thursday that he could not see why last year's acquittal would be incompletely motivated. Böttner argued that courts always emphasise some aspects in their reasoning to prevent it from getting out of hand in terms of scope. According to him, the prosecution's claim was not convincing because it did not explain which specific viewpoint was actually missing from the motivation of last year's verdict.

After the hearing, Böttner told journalists that he was under the impression that the Oberlandesgericht ruling "is a political procedure".

In any case, it cannot possibly be argued that the Bremen Landgericht brushed the case off in 2022. It spent as many as four days in May going through the case from the bottom to top and back to front.

It must be a severe disappointment for Rev Latzel now that the 2022 acquittal is again uncertain since Thursday?

Without doubt. Although he is not afraid of small things, this weighs heavily on his well-being. What is important here is that it is not just some secular activists giving him a hard time but that his own denomination is also putting him under fire. The BEK started church disciplinary proceedings against the pastor back in 2019. The employer of the pastor has only temporarily paused that procedure has only temporarily, pending the final verdict of the secular judge.

Thus, after Thursday's ruling, Rev Latzel remains in significant uncertainty and needs more than ever the support of the Bible text he puts above all his emails: Der Herr ist mein Hirte (Psalm 23:1). And from the closing sentences with which he concludes each email: Ich grüße Sie herzlich mit Psalm 121:1-3. Der Herr Jesus segne und behüte Sie. (I greet you heartily with Psalm 121:1-3. The Lord Jesus bless you and keep you, ed.).

This article was translated by CNE.news and published by the Dutch daily Reformatorisch Dagblad on February 24, 2023



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