A row has erupted in Latvia after the US government denied links with an anti-gay preacher who travelled to the country claiming to be an official White House envoy.
Kenneth Hutcherson, founder of the Antioch Bible Church, is an outspoken opponent of gay rights.
He travelled to Latvia in earlier this month at the invitation of the New Generational Church.
While in the country, Hutcherson met with several senior officials, including the Minister for Integration and the head of the Parliamentary Human Rights Committee.
He also visited the Ministry of Domestic Affairs and the American Embassy.
It is thought that these meetings were only possible because of Hutcherson’s claims of official support from Jay Hein, director of the White House’s Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives (OFBCI).
“Jay says we have a partnership and we’re going to work together again… I told him, ‘There are things I want to do in Latvia, but I can do them faster with your backing,’” Hutcherson told Deutsche Press-Agentur.
Janis Smits, head of Latvia’s parliamentary human rights committee, and Oskars Kastens, Integration Minister, both claim they were under the impression he was working as an OFBCI envoy.
Kastens added that Hutcherson was carrying a file bearing the US coat of arms.
But White House officials contacted by Deutsche Presse-Agentur denied Hutcherson had any link with the office.
White House spokeswoman Alyssa McClenning stated categorically that Hutcherson had no official links with the OFBCI and could not legitimately claim to represent the White House on foreign visits.
Hutcherson responded angrily to the comments, saying that he “did not appreciate being called a flat liar.”
“I never asked for a title: I asked for the power, the clout,” he said.
“The people in the press office don’t know what’s been going on in the upper office.”
Seattle-based lawyer Dave Coffman has asked the FBI to investigate Hutcherson’s claims, arguing that they breach federal laws concerning the impersonation of federal officials.
Mr Hutcherson, who runs a ‘super-church’ in Seattle, is a vehement opponent of gay rights.
He told Latvians that homosexuality was spreading rapidly, and that the “gay lobby” had increasing political influence across the world.
“We need to do everything to ensure that even in the European Union it does not loose its principles.
“It is a holy right of any nation to decide I what society to live,” he told a meeting organised by Janis Vanags, Archbishop of the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church, and attended by Janis Pujats, the Latvian Roman Catholic Cardinal, and representatives of the Orthodox, Penecostals and other Christian sects.
Latvia joined the EU in 2004.
Gay and lesbian protesters were refused permission to march in Riga on the 22nd July 2006 by city officials, who cited security advice from the interior ministry.
The US ambassador to Latvia met with interior minister to urge him to allow the march to go ahead, but he refused.
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