Posts Tagged 'Larry Keffer'

How The Arrest Of Evangelists At Oslo’s Independence Day Parade Was Discriminatory

 

I have seen a lot of discrimination up close and personal.  As an attorney, I have represented evangelists for years after they have been threatened with arrest for sharing their faith in public places.  This is amazing considering that there is very little other activity that authorities care about in public places.  You can sale almost anything.  You can play music that borders on obscene, but do not read from a Bible or tell people how to become Christians.

 In Europe this is becoming even truer—Europeans are afraid to confront Muslims and the homosexual community in public places, but it is slowly becoming open season on Christians.

 In Oslo, Norway the discrimination currently seems to be limited only to large gatherings like parades.  Normal days come and go with no arrests.  Let there be a big event, like a Pride Parade or a parade celebrating independence and the rules are suspended.  The rules are not suspended because of any great theory.

 Before the Pride Parade in 2007, Petar Keseljevic and I spoke on the telephone regarding what his rights were in public places in Oslo.  I informed him that he had a right to be in public areas as long as he did not block the ability of people move along the sidewalks.  He should be careful not to block any vehicles.  Finally, he should not speak directly to individuals; rather he should speak to the group as a whole about the principles of eternal life he was sharing.

 For several days before the parade Petar asked local politicians and local police departments if he could get a permit that would allow him to be on the sidewalks during the parade.  He was told repeatedly that no permit was necessary for public speaking in public places. 

 After all, the logic went, Norway is a democratic country.  We permit free speech and religion.

 Yet, when the day in question arrived, Petar was arrested.

 The next year there was no point in asking whether he needed a permit.  So, on Norwegian Independence Day 2008 Petar and Larry Keffer showed up and began to share their faith.

 First they were merely asked to move somewhere away from the Palace of the King and Queen.  They complied, but because this was a day with a large public gathering they were arrested.

 Never mind the fact that one a couple of occasions Petar and Larry were accosted by “standers by.”  Both of these incidents occurred while the police were present, watching the evangelists work.  There were only two arrests—the evangelists.

 The discrimination in question took place when the police decided to target only Christian speech.  We are quickly moving toward a world where anything offensive is not permitted.  At the same time, we are moving toward a world where Christian speech is, by definition, offensive.

 This is a discrimination we cannot live with.  This would mean that only secularism or other, less insistent religions are acceptable.

 The European Convention on Human Rights and Norwegian law guarantee free speech and religious freedom to all people.  Yet, when the message is New Testament Evangelical Christianity those rights are suddenly not guaranteed.

 Not only were Petar and Larry arrested, but the Oslo Criminal Court ruled that they were rightly arrested.  The appeals court agreed, as did the Supreme Court.  Now, their fate is in the hands of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France.

 This level of discrimination is just beginning for Christians in America and in Europe.  It is deep rooted and the roots are growing deeper as both Continents grow more and more secularized.

 If we are uncomfortable with this level of discrimination we are going to be even less happy with the levels to come.  Eventually, we will be going from discrimination to persecution. 

 Then we really are in trouble!

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2008, A Quick Look Back

This has been a very busy year for me.  I have managed to work on a variety of cases, with very little expenses. 

 

Your prayers and your support made this possible.  So, let me begin by saying thank you!  Your partnership has made all the difference in the lives of a number of people in America and Europe.

 

That’s right!  We have worked on a variety of cases in America.  At the same time, we have done what no one else has been doing in Europe; we stood up for religious freedom across the Continent!

 

It is important to give praise for the success we have had.  That is part of how we prepare for moving forward.  2009 looks to be every bit as busy as 2008.  We will look to 2009 soon, for now I want to take a few minutes and review our work this year.

 

One easy, cost free way you can also help us is by using GoodSearch for your Internet searches. Go to www.goodsearch.com and enter International Human Rights Group as your charity to begin supporting the ministry through GoodSearch.

 

Battles won in America

 

In the States we worked on a number of different cases and issues.  I want to talk about a couple of them that you probably heard nothing about because we handled them quietly to protect the reputation of our clients.

 

In Atlanta we worked for over two years to resolve free speech issues in the areas surrounding the Georgia Dome, Centennial Park, and the Philips Arena.  There are a number of groups that provide security and they played off of each other to hinder free speech on public sidewalks.

 

Earlier this year I met with attorneys for one of those groups and finalized the negotiations whereby everyone has now agreed that evangelists have the right to share their faith on the sidewalks surrounding all of these public arenas.

 

It was a hard fought victory and required a lot of time and energy, but we persevered and won the rights that are guaranteed under the Constitution of the United States.

 

Thank you for standing with these evangelists through the IHRG!

 

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The Gentleman Evangelist, Bill Adams, sharing his faith at an Atlanta Falcons football game!

 

We also worked with a large church in a southern city.  For the sake of the church and the community I am not at liberty to share the name of the church or the city and state.  This church has an outreach that is changing the way Christians look at the arts.

 

The church was looking to erect a large cross on property they own in a rural area.  The property is used for sports outreach and special church programs.  County officials refused the church the building permit required to erect the cross because they said it violated their local sign ordinances.

 

I was invited down to meet with county officials.  We spent over an hour discussing the fact that the Constitution and other laws protect the right of the church to erect religious worship symbols on their property for the purpose of religious expression.

 

Then, our local attorney took the county attorney by the property and let him see for himself the rural nature of the property.

 

After several weeks, the county relented and the cross has been erected.

 

Our International Work

 

I made six trips to Europe this year working on cases involving religious freedom.  While this may sound like nothing but fun it means that I was away from my family for over 70 days this year.  It means that I missed some of those moments that make up our private lives. 

 

Don’t get me wrong, this is what I am called to do and I do it gladly.  It does not, however, come without costs.

 

First case of 2008 filed in Strasbourg, France

 

My first trip to Europe in 2008 found me filing a case before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France.  This court is the equivalent of the Supreme Court of the United States for issues involving human rights and religious freedom.

 

This case involves Petar Keseljevic who is an evangelist from Oslo, Norway who was arrested for sharing his faith on public sidewalks in Oslo.  You might remember that in August of last year we were in Oslo at Petar’s trail.

 

In near record time, Petar’s case went through the entire system in Norway.  A ruling from the ECHR will set a precedent for the entirety of Europe.  Please pray that the court will accept this case and give us a chance to present Petar’s case for freedom of expression.

 

From Strasbourg, we traveled to a meeting with the Robinson family in Nürnberg, Germany where Clint Robinson is the English language pastor of a Baptist Church.  We spent a considerable amount of time last year working on the Robinson family’s case.  We were able to resolve their case so they remained in Germany ministering through the end of 2008.  Now, the Robinson family is back in the States on furlough preparing to return to Europe and plant a new church.

 

Your prayers and partnership helped in both of these cases.  Please continue to pray for Petar and the Robinson family.  Pray that they will be able to continue their ministries in Norway and Germany/Austria.

 

We also met with Mosaic and Samhol ministries in Iceland.  We have partnered with these ministries to support their outreach in Iceland.  These two dynamic ministries are making a huge difference in Reykjavik.  Mosaic is a local evangelical church that began this Easter.  Already they have one hundred members, many of them street people who have come to the Lord through the ministry of the church and Samhol.

 

One hundred members doesn’t sound like a big church by American standards.  You have to realize that the largest evangelical, non-state church in Iceland has only four hundred members to see what a huge start this is.  This country is like the rest of Europe, hardened to the Gospel in many ways.  Yet, in Reykjavik Christian men have dedicated their lives and ministries to seeing revival in the Icelandic people.

 

Samhol is a ministry to the street people and addicts of Iceland.  They work to not only bring these hurting souls to the Christian faith; they are also working at the street level to free them from the chains of addiction.  Their program is simple.  They help them physically defeat the addiction and then they counsel them through the emotion and mental difficulties of returning to normal, productive lives.

 

Mosaic and Samhol are changing Iceland, one soul at a time.  We are proud to be partnered with such dynamic ministries.

 

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An inside look at the work of Samhol in Iceland

 

Please continue to pray for these two dynamic ministries to have greater influence in Iceland and beyond!

 

This is a different fight for the IHRG.  Religious freedom is currently strong in Iceland.  Here we will support the local work of these two ministries and others.  We will support their leadership with legal counsel as they grow and have a greater reach into the cities and villages of Iceland. 

 

Second and Third Case of 2008 Filed Before ECHR in Strasbourg

 

We filed our second and third applications of 2008 before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France on behalf of the Plett and the Pauls families.  (To understand why I consider religious freedom in Europe so important please see a recent article of mine that was published in The Voice Magazine.  You can see the article by clicking here.

 

The Plett and the Pauls familes are home schooling their children for religious reasons.  Their right to control the education of their children is protected by the German Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.  Unfortunately, the German school authorities have refused to grant these rights to the parents and have persecuted the parents for home schooling their children.  And the German courts agreed with the school officials.

 

This persecution included removing the custody of the children on questions of where the children live from the parents and giving it to the Youth Welfare Office.  They levied fines against the parents of thousands of Euros, they showed up at the family home unannounced to take the children from the parents. 

 

One family eventually fled to Canada to try and stay together while they continue home schooling.  The other family fled in part to Austria to continue home schooling.  The European Court of Human Rights is these families’ last hope for justice and we are there to help fight for justice.

 

Please pray for these families and their cases!  Pray that the court will grant justice in instances where they have refused to enforce the law on behalf of parents and their children who are seeking to raise their children according to the dictates of their faith.

 

Criminal Trial in Oslo, Norway

 

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Norwegian attorney, Joel, and Petar Keseljevic after criminal trial in Oslo in July

 

In July I was in Oslo, Norway.  For the second time in a year police officers in Oslo arrested an evangelist for sharing his Christian faith in public.  This time, Petar Keseljevic was joined by Larry Keffer, an American evangelist.  These two men were in public areas of Oslo on May 17, 2008 sharing their faith when they were arrested.  The criminal hearing was in July and I was there representing Larry Keffer.

 

I read Larry’s fact statement into the record.  Then I cross examined a police officer.  Then I presented a closing argument based on the international law that protected the rights of Petar and Larry.

 

The prosecuting attorney told me after the trial that she believed this was the first time in Norway’s history that an American had participated in a criminal trial.  That seems a bit much to me, however, it was certainly an honor to be able to represent such an important case before the court in Oslo.

 

Both Petar and Larry were found guilty.  We appealed Larry’s case to the Norwegian Court of Appeals.  They denied the appeal and Larry’s appeal is currently pending before the Norwegian Supreme Court.

 

Please continue to pray for Larry.  We are prepared to file the final appeal in Strasbourg, if the Norwegian Supreme Court does not rule in Larry’s favor.  This is a critical case on free speech issues that could affect all of Europe and ultimately America.

 

We were also able to work with German lawyers to protect the rights of parents to choose the education of their children.  We spent time in the Czech Republic where we made key contacts that will be very important in the coming year.

 

There is more we have done, but time and space concerns need to keep this shorter. 

 

Please continue to pray for our work!  Please continue to pray for those we represent and their families!  They are the true heroes of our faith!

 

Thanks for standing with us!

Help Me Stand With Larry Keffer

When American missionary Larry Keffer began street evangelism in Oslo, Norway he knew the cost would be great!  He knew that he could be arrested!  He knew that he could find himself in court and possibly even in jail! 

 

He went anyway!  And he shared his faith in public places.  He did this because he knows how important it is to continue to try and reach the world with the Christian faith.  Larry also knows the importance of bringing the Gospel message to Europe—the spiritually dark continent. 

 

In the midst of calmly sharing his message Larry was arrested.  I represented Larry at trial.  He was convicted because the Norwegian police law actually carries more weight than the right to freedom of speech and freedom of religion.  In America Larry might have been arrested, but as soon as we went to court he would have been found not guilty.

 

Now Larry has lost his case at the Norwegian Court of Appeals and we are preparing to take his appeal to the Supreme Court of Norway.  From there, if we lose we will go to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France in our quest for justice for Larry.

 

Stand with me as I stand with Larry in the courts of Europe.  Together we can make a difference!  Together we can keep the door open for the proclamation of the Gospel in Europe!

 

You can stand with Larry, the IHRG, and me by going to our website.  Your tax deductible gift will help keep the door open for Christians in Europe who are fighting to bring freedom.

Appeal Filed In Norway

This week the IHRG filed an appeal in the case of Oslo v. Keffer in Norway.  Larry Keffer was arrested this summer in Oslo for failing to leave when the police ordered him to stop sharing his faith in a public place.  We represented Larry at trial in Oslo and have now filed his appeal.  We are asking the Appeals Court to overturn the conviction and remove the fines against Larry.  If he does not pay the fines he will be required to spend 21 days in jail.

 

This is a critical case for free speech in Europe and we will fight it until the end.  Larry went to Norway for the purpose of sharing his faith in public places with his friend and fellow evangelist, Petar Keseljevic.  They were both arrested and both found guilty at trial. 

 

Petar was arrested last year on the same charge and we are currently representing him at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France.

 

Arresting evangelist for free speech is rather rare in Europe currently.  If we do not fight this new trend I believe we will see more arrests in the near future.

 

That is why we do what we do at the IHRG.  If we lose the right to share our faith in Europe I believe it will come to America eventually.

 

So we fight in the courts of Europe!

And Now The Appeal

            I knew this was going to happen, from the moment Petar and Larry were arrested.  I knew we would have a trial.  I knew we would present good evidence that they should not have been arrested.  I knew I would leave the courtroom convinced that our clients should never have been arrested.

 

            After all, we had shown a thirty-five minute video of the alleged “crimes.”  We had testimony from both Petar and Larry as to the legitimate reasons they had to be on the streets.  We had cross examined the three police officers who testified during the course of the trial.  We had shown their testimony to be inconsistent.

 

            Then we had made good legal arguments in our close that would have moved most courts to realize that when someone is exercising their freedom of expression the police do not have an absolute right to order them to leave the area.

 

            The problem was that we were in Norway and peace on the streets is the rule at all costs.  When the police give an order it has to be obeyed.  It does not matter that you are doing something perfectly legal.  It doesn’t matter that you have a right to be where you are.  The police cannot be questioned.  This is how life works in the European police states.

 

            So, on Monday when I heard that we had lost at the trial level, I was not surprised.  We had taken the case I knew we would win or lose it on appeal rather than at the trial court.  In fact, I do not expect to win the case before we get to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France.

 

            We fight because it is the only way to keep the door for the proclamation of the Gospel open.  We do not have any guarantees of the victory.  I only know that if we do not fight we will lose.

 

            Therefore, we will fight until we win.  Case by case, country by country.

Criminal Trial in Oslo, Norway

Petar Keseljevic is a Norwegian evangelist who is compelled to share his faith in public places, particularly in his home city of Oslo, Norway.  Larry Keffer is an American evangelist who is also compelled to share his faith.  He and Petar decided to share together in the public places of Oslo in May of this year during the Norwegian Independence Day Celebration.

 

Unfortunately for them, the people and ultimately the police of Oslo decided that the Gospel message was incompatible with a public political gathering.  So, to stop the speech the police arrested the two evangelists and charged them with failing to obey a police order. 

 

The police order was simple, you must stop speaking, take down your banner, and leave.  In other words, no free speech rights were permitted in Oslo during this celebration.    The police failed to tell them that failure to follow this order would result in arrest.  How do I know this is true?  Larry Keffer videoed the entire encounter so that you can hear everything that is said by the police.

 

The hearing was set for July 1, 2008 and I was able to participate as the attorney representing Larry Keffer.  I was able to help formulate the arguments for both Petar and Larry.  I was able to read Larry’s statement into the record in court in Oslo.  I was permitted to cross examine the witnesses in open court.  Finally, I was permitted to present a 30 minute closing argument during the trial.

 

The prosecutor told me after the hearing that she thought this was the first time in Norwegian history that an American had given arguments in the criminal court in Oslo.  I do not know if that is true, but it was certainly an honor to be able to represent two fine Christian men in court in Norway.

 

We find out on Monday, July 7, what the decision of the judges is.  I will keep you informed.

Four Thirty AM in Wengen, Switzerland

It is four thirty in the morning in Wengen, Switzerland—dark, raining as it has for the past day.  Jet lag is holding on and I find myself wishing to sleep but too restless to comply.  What should be beautiful view of the Alps is lost in fog when the sun comes up.  This quiet restful town offers no solace to the weary traveler tonight.

 

Tomorrow promises to be more of the same.

 

I am here getting ready to do our work—protecting religious freedom at Euro 2008.  This is what we know as the European Cup Soccer Championships.  Switzerland and Austria are abuzz with the tension of thousands of soccer fans gathered to gather to cheer and cry for their teams as they seek one of the most prestigious championships on the planet.

 

Missionaries are here from around the world to share their faith to the thousands who have gathered to enjoy the festive atmosphere.

 

There are a number of matters to be taken care of yet.  I know the law, there is what should be an unqualified right to express your religious views in public.  As of now, that right is still protected in Europe.  There have been rumblings of that right fading.

 

Just recently in England two evangelists were threatened with arrest for sharing the Gospel in public places.  Just a month ago two evangelists in Norway were arrested for sharing their faith in a public pedestrian way.

 

Both of these instances are signs of potential change coming to Europe.  The reasons for both instances are different, but the results are the same.  We are finding Europe to be less open to the message of the Christian church.

 

In England the situation is the most dire.  It is here that the Gospel message is not being permitted because the area where the men were sharing their faith is a Muslim community.  In an age of tolerance the only thing it seems that is not being tolerated is the Christian message.  Maybe the reason is really just an inane desire to keep the peace.  After all, if we offend the Muslim community they do not just complain.  They often take to the streets in protest.  And their protest in recent years has included signs that call for the destruction of England.  Or they call for the overthrow of democratic government, demanding that it be replaced with Sharia law for everyone.

 

Some would say that the problem between the west and the Muslim world is that we have invaded their territory and they are only looking to be left alone.  England shows that logic to be false.  In merry ole England we have Muslim immigrants who have no desire to fit into the existing culture.  They have been asking for the last few years to have their own law determine their own disputes within their community.  Recently they have begun to show signs of not being willing to accept such a minor solution.  It seems their desire is to have England bow to the Muslim community and force everyone to follow their rules—the same as is currently required in the Muslim countries of the Middle East.

 

It makes the argument that we should leave the Middle East alone so they will leave us alone ring hollow.

 

So, when Christians in England preach their message in such a way that it reaches the Muslim community they threaten violence.  The do not merely threaten violence against the missionaries but against the entire culture.  Perhaps it is time we understood that their worldview divides the world into two groups of people—those of the true faith, Islam, and the rest of us.

 

Unfortunately for the rest of us, simply by being the rest of us they believe anything that happens to us is justified.  We are, after all, infidels.

 

The problem in England is not, however, the Muslim community.  The problem in England is the British community.  A people who once ruled most of the world have suddenly become incapable of ruling their portion of the island that is left to them.  It seems they do not have the strength to preserve their own culture.

 

In a Darwinian world the British will not continue to survive for much longer as they are no longer the fittest. 

 

A friend of mine, a human rights advocate and barrister in England, told me that he was slated to do an interview with the BBC on this case.  At the last minute the interview was cancelled and the BBC does not want to talk about the case publicly.  A cursory review of the situation might say this is a good decision, but we cannot look at these issues in a cursory fashion.

 

A close look at Holland is a good example of what happens we do not keep the peaceful Muslims happy.  They feel like their religion is defamed and they do not respond by writing editorials.  They do not respond by staging a quiet, or a loud protest to show their dissatisfaction.  Instead they respond by threatening to kill the offending party.  And then, as in the case in Holland, they carry out those threats with bold, mid-day murders on public streets.

 

Think of where western culture would be if everyone of us responded to offense by issuing death threats and then followed through on those threats.  It used to be like that in America—it was the old west and we spent decades fighting to bring that culture into control.  Sure, now we glorify those days with movies about outlaws and lawmen who lived by the rule of the gun—but that is merely a Hollywood version of the past and we all are thankful that you can now ride through Tombstone, Arizona without the fear of being gunned down for any reason or no reason at all.

 

One of the hallmarks of our democratic societies is that we resolve our disputes peacefully.  Anyone who does not resort to peace will find themselves in detention.  We consider that to be justice. 

 

Now in England that is not the case.  A threat of violence from the Muslim community brings a silencing of a message that has been considered valid and free for centuries.

 

And then, to take it a step further, we do not even want to allow the discussion of the issue in public.  Free speech is the victim in this situation.  Ultimately, the loss of free speech will also lead to the destruction of religious freedom as well.

 

England now hangs in the balance and we must be diligent not to let England become the victim of their own short-sightedness.

 

In Norway the situation is different.  Freedom of speech is not under attack out of the fear of a backlash from the Muslim community.  There the situation is perhaps even more frightening.  In Oslo the battle is over the compatibility of the Gospel message with public life in general.  The problem is that many people in the post Christian world do not consider a public discussion of religion to be legitimate at all.

 

When Petar Keseljevic and Larry Keffer were in public pedestrian areas sharing their faith by holding signs and speaking to people passing by they were told that the nation’s celebration of their independence were not the place for a discussion of religion.  Several people complained that they were celebrating their independence and should not have to hear a discussion of religion at all.

 

The police agreed and arrested the two evangelists.  Not for sharing their faith—rather they were arrested for that great bastion of a free society, the failure to follow a police order.  The police order was simple—your message is not wanted here, if you do not leave we will arrest you.

 

And arrest them they did.  It was all very civil.  Calmly, the police arrested the two and took them to the station where they were processed and released awaiting trial.

 

Post Christian Europe does not want to be reminded of their Christian past.  They do not want to hear about their Christian future.  We are much too enlightened to think in terms of God anymore.  We are too enlightened to declare God is dead any more.  We simply live in such a way to prove the premise.

 

A foundation of western society is our belief in free speech and freedom of religion.  The Supreme Court of the United States has declared religious freedom to include the right to believe anything we choose about God.  More importantly, they have added that religious freedom also includes the right to not believe.  That is the battle we are fighting in America right now.  One the side of religious freedom we have always fought for an even playing field—even when the other side wanted to use the freedom they have to try and stop our message from being proclaimed.

 

The price of freedom is that sometimes you have to hear things you disagree with.  That is the mark of any free society.  We cannot only support the ideas we agree with and be considered free.  We have to permit dissent.  That is one of the problems with the politically correct ideals.  Political correctness says that some ideas are not worthy of public discourse.  That is merely another name for the suppression of free thought and public discourse.

 

We are a better people than all of this.  We have learned to live with a number of different cultures and belief systems in peace.  To stop now would only take us backwards instead of forward.  While it might make for a better moment it will not make for a better society.


Books Worth Reading

C.S. LEWIS--Mere Christianity; CLAIRE BERLINSKI--Menace in Europe: Why the Continent's Crisis is America's Crisis, Too; BRUCE BAWER--While Europe Slept: How Radical islam is Destroying the West from Within; DAVID LEVERING LEWIS--God's Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215; THOMAS SCHIRRMACHER--The Persecution of Christians Concerns Us All; PHILIP JENKINS--God's Continent: Christianity, Islam, and Europe's Religious Crisis

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