Right-wing extremist Neil Erikson was sentenced to 10 weeks in prison after entering a gay-friendly church in Melbourne and hurling homophobic slurs, with a magistrate calling his behavior “willfully ignorant” and “shameful” .
The 36-year-old was sentenced in an online hearing in Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on Friday after being convicted of disrupting a church service at Hawthorn Metropolitan Community Church in May 2019 .
He entered the church, along with two women, about 20 minutes after the congregation had gathered and sat down briefly before getting up to ask if they “have married sodomites.”
Erikson, who broadcast the episode live, also said, “You are not Christians” and uttered a homophobic slur. He was asked to leave but he refused to do so.
Magistrate Angela Bolger called Erikson’s actions “confronting”, “provocative” and “insulting”. While he had the right to be as “willfully ignorant as he wanted”, she said, he had no right to disturb a legal religious gathering.
“It’s appalling and shameful conduct, but I suspect you might be beyond shame, because you’ve already done it,” Bolger told Erikson on Friday.
“To place the gathered people in silent prayerful contemplation in such abuse is awful. There is no justification that can be offered to excuse it. And Mr. Erikson doesn’t really offer an excuse or justification.
The magistrate said Erikson’s motivations for the offense appeared to be “self-glorification.” “I can only assume that the audience that Mr. Erikson tried to capture is extremely small, as even his companions at the conclusion did not fully support him,” she said.
When Bolger asked Erikson, who has represented himself in court, if he has any relevant previous convictions, the builder’s worker said he served a month in jail this year after being convicted of having disrupted a separate religious gathering.
“I’m happy to do jail again but would prefer a fine,” Erikson told the magistrate. She replied, “Well, I bet you do.”
Erikson, who described himself in court as a retired “nationalist and religious activist”, had in his defense referred to verses from the Old Testament Book of Leviticus.
He argued that the Metropolitan Community Church could not be interpreted as a religious gathering because his views regarding same-sex marriage contravened sections of the Bible.
“Do you have legal training? Bolger asked him. Erikson replied, “I’ve been to court a lot and won a few cases. He later added that it was better to defend yourself than to spend “$ 15,000 to $ 20,000” on legal representation.
The magistrate said: “I would suggest that it is probably more profitable, in the end, not to engage in this kind of behavior that would see you charged and brought to court.”
The court had previously heard that church members were “shaken” by Erikson’s incursion and were unsure if he was armed, and that his live broadcast had caused increased distress to some who did not. had not yet made known their friends and families.
Erikson, who lives in Wonthaggi, was ordered to appear in Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on Monday.