Extremist blames church fracas on victims

·2-min read

Far-right extremist Neil Erikson has claimed he was trying to participate in a Bible discussion when he stormed into an LGBTQI-friendly church and asked if they married Sodomites.

His lawyer told a Melbourne court on Wednesday the victims of the abuse, including the church's reverend, caused a disturbance by standing up and trying to get him out of the room.

Erikson, 37, crashed a Mother's Day service at the Metropolitan Community Church in Hawthorn in May 2019 with two women, live-streaming the ordeal to his followers online.

A few minutes after the Bible discussion began, Erikson got up from his seat and, while standing in front of about 20 parishioners, asked: "Does your church marry Sodomites?"

Parishioners were shocked by the incident and Reverend Susan Townsend stood up and asked him repeatedly to leave.

He hurled further abuse, including at times calling the parishioners "degenerates" and "fa***ts".

A scuffle broke out and Erikson accused a male parishioner of pushing him in the chest. He eventually left the church and waited outside for police.

Erikson was found guilty of disturbing a religious service and sentenced to 10 weeks' jail in July 2021 but he has since launched an appeal against his conviction and sentence.

His barrister Stephanie Wallace said he was not trying to disturb, but instead wanted to participate in a discussion as there were "theological origins" to the word Sodomite.

"It was a forum that invited participation," she told the County Court.

"Although not everyone's cup of tea, it was not a criminal offence."

She accused the parishioners and reverend of causing a disturbance after at least six of them got up and stood behind Rev Townsend, while asking him to leave.

"The tone changed and he was asked to leave, there was a quarrelling between the parties," Ms Wallace said.

"The congregate standing up and rushing forward is what creates the disturbance, it was not Mr Erikson trying to make the disturbance."

Prosecution barrister Bill Stougiannos described Erikson as an intolerant man who was determined to disturb the peace when he stormed into the church.

"It can't be said he's going there to have a sensible debate about the true meaning of Sodomites in the Bible," he said.

He said Erikson wanted to "put on a show" for his followers on YouTube.

"He set up the stage for his little bit of theatre to entertain the masses, whoever they may be," he said.

Chief Justice Peter Kidd will hand down his judgment on the appeal on August 29.

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