Monday’s decision by a three-judge court in the northern Peloponnese town of Aigio was without doubt the greatest piece of news for the country that day. Not because of the sentence handed to Metropolitan Amvrosios of Kalavryta and Aigialeia (seven months, suspended), but rather for the fact that the Greek state condemned a public servant for abuse of power and incitement of violence.
The verdict was a major victory for society’s progressive forces and we owe it to the three brave judges who defied not just the rage of the cleric’s supporters, but also the recommendation of the bench prosecutor. She had argued that “no matter how sharp his expressions, [Amvrosios’s] rhetoric does not have the power to arouse individuals or groups to extreme behavior against others.”
Amvrosios was indicted in 2015 for comments on his personal blog prompted by a parliamentary debate extending cohabitation agreements to same-sex couples. Among other vitriolic statements, he called on his readers to “spit on” and “lambaste” gay people, describing them as “not human” and “abominations of nature” with “a mental disorder.”
In theory, the judicial dispute was over whether the cleric was inviting his readers to commit acts of violence or provoking hatred with his comments. However, when judicial decisions are made on social behavior, they are important for an additional reason: because they educate the public, because they take on symbolic proportions and because in this case, especially, they set a precedent. When hate speech by clerics, and especially high-ranking men of the church, is tolerated by one of the basic pillars of democracy, justice, this leaves citizens feeling exposed.
This is why Monday’s verdict is so important: because it showed us the Greek justice system doing its job in the service of society, without prejudice or bias, while also warning clerics against the path of hate – something that ought to have been done first by the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece.