Metro

Antigay Springfield pastor fighting Charlie Baker — and gay Ugandans in federal court

Republican candidate for governor Scott Lively addresses the Massachusetts Republican Convention at the DCU Center in Worcester, Mass., Saturday, April 28, 2018. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
Winslow Townson/AP
Republican candidate for governor Scott Lively addresses the Massachusetts Republican Convention at the DCU Center in Worcester.

Controversial pastor Scott Lively, whom Republicans this weekend catapulted into contention for the GOP nomination for governor, is embroiled in an active federal lawsuit in which he was accused of conspiracy to deprive gay people in the East African nation of Uganda of their fundamental human rights.

A judge last year called Lively’s efforts and writings against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex people “odious” and “crackpot bigotry.”

“The question before the court is not whether Defendant’s actions in aiding and abetting efforts to demonize, intimidate, and injure LGBTI people in Uganda constitute violations of international law. They do,” wrote US District Judge Michael A. Ponsor. It’s a view Lively vociferously disputes.

Advertisement

The case — now pending before the US Court of Appeals in Boston — was publicly known before Saturday’s Republican convention but was not part of the public deliberations when nearly 30 percent of GOP delegates backed Lively over Governor Charlie Baker. Yet Lively’s opinions about gay people will likely be front and center during the primary campaign.

Get Metro Headlines in your inbox:
The 10 top local news stories from metro Boston and around New England delivered daily.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

Already Baker has said many of Lively’s views should have no place in public discourse. “I’m no fan of his position on gay rights, and I’ll just start there,” he added Monday.

Lively was sued by Sexual Minorities Uganda, a gay rights organization but he won the first round of the Uganda case last year. The judge dismissed the lawsuit on jurisdictional grounds, but in an unusual legal twist, Lively is now appealing the ruling in his favor.

Given that Ponsor decided the court did not have jurisdiction over the matter, Lively argues, the judge did not have the authority to opine on the merit of the underlying allegation — that he aided and abetted a crime against humanity.

Lively’s lawyers believe they have a good case.

Advertisement

“We think the law is very clear: A court that lacks jurisdiction to determine the merits of the case cannot determine the merits of the case. It seems pretty simple,” said Horatio G. Mihet, Lively’s lead attorney from the nonprofit Liberty Counsel, which is representing the pastor free of charge.

Moreover, Mihet said, Lively has always maintained the accusations are based on fiction.

But the lawyers for Sexual Minorities Uganda say Lively’s appeal has no merit.

“It’s an absurd situation he’s created, appealing his win to censor the judge’s language,” said Pamela C. Spees, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs and a lawyer at the Center for Constitutional Rights, which is representing the group for free.

Oral arguments for the appeal are scheduled for June 7.

Advertisement

The lawsuit, first filed in 2012, is drawing new attention after Lively won enough support — 28 percent of delegates — at the state GOP convention on Saturday to gain access to the Sept. 4 primary ballot. Lively says he is on track to submit the 10,000 signatures he needs to get to the secretary of state next month to be on the ballot.

Party insiders had expected Lively to fall short of garnering the 15 percent of delegates he needed to win ballot access.

But after a fiery speech in which Lively emphasized his conservative credentials and did not mention gay people — “I’m 100 percent pro-life. I’m 100 percent pro-Second Amendment. I stand on the original intent of the Constitution. I’m 100 percent pro-Trump” — he ended up getting the votes of 626 delegates.

After the balloting, several said they were animated by dismay over Baker’s moderate views rather than any positions held by Lively.

“This was: Delegates who are conservative are just fed up,” said Mary Lou Daxland, a delegate from Westport who voted for Lively and is president of the conservative Massachusetts Republican Assembly.

Daxland ticked through a multitude of complaints, from Baker’s opposition to many of President Trump’s policies to the governor’s decision to sign a transgender public accommodations bill into law in 2016.

“A lot of people feel: Why do we even have a Republican governor if he’s going to be pushing the Democrat agenda,” she said.

But Lively’s views on gay people are poised to be in the limelight.

In a sworn declaration made as part of the lawsuit in 2016, Lively makes what he sees an important distinction:

“I am joyfully compelled by Jesus Christ to love as individuals all persons who identify as homosexual or commit the sin of homosexuality,” he wrote. “However, I am strongly opposed to the gay agenda because I believe the agenda is a threat to the continuation of historically Judeo-Christian, marriage-based civilization as God designed and intended it for the benefit of mankind.”

The Springfield pastor, who founded the Abiding Truth Ministries, says he has always been opposed to violence against or ridicule or vilification of people who identify as homosexual.

But Ponsor’s 2017 decision — hailed by the plaintiffs even as their complaint was dismissed and disparaged by the defendant even as he was victorious — paints a different picture.

Ponsor ruled Lively “aided and abetted a vicious and frightening campaign of repression against LGBTI persons in Uganda,” and the judge said Lively “worked with elements in Uganda who share some of his views to try to repress freedom of expression by LGBTI people in Uganda, deprive them of the protection of the law, and render their very existence illegal.”

The plaintiffs in the case had tried to connect Lively’s visits to Uganda, his speeches there, and his work with activists to persecution of gay people.

Among other books, Lively is the author of “The Pink Swastika: Homosexuality in the Nazi Party,” a revisionist history that alleges the Nazi party was controlled by gay men who hid their sexual orientation.

Ponsor pointed to Lively’s writings, saying he “has tried to make gay people scapegoats for practically all of humanity’s ills” — views that the judge calls “crackpot bigotry.”

Still, the judge ruled that Lively’s actions did not meet the necessary legal standard to be heard in a US court.

Globe correspondent Matt Stout contributed to this report. Joshua Miller can be reached at joshua.miller@globe.com.