Update on the Trial of Christians in Finland

Update on the Trial of Christians in Finland February 28, 2022

We’ve been blogging about the trial in Finland of Member of Parliament Dr. Päivi Räsänen and Lutheran Bishop Juhana Pohjola for “hate crimes,” due to their teaching what the Bible says about homosexuality.  The trial is over, and the court plans to issue its ruling on March 30.

Joy Pullman of the Federalist has been covering the case and interviewing the defendants.  She reports on where things stand right now, including some aspects I didn’t realize, in her article How A Trial In Finland Could Have Worldwide Effects On Government Persecution Of Religion.

Dr. Räsänen, the former Minister of the Interior, first got in trouble when she tweeted pictures of Bible verses, sparking an investigation that uncovered other talks and writings that offered a Christian perspective on the LGBT cause.  Those included a pamphlet she wrote for the Luther Foundation.  Rev. Pohjola–now the bishop of the Mission Diocese of the Lutheran Evangelical Church, which is in fellowship with the LCMS–was in charge of that foundation, so he was prosecuted too.

The two, who are being tried together, could be sentenced to up to two years of prison.  Prosecutors are seeking a fine for Dr. Räsänen of one-third of her annual income, erasing the documents and audiotapes she made on the subject, and a financial penalty against the Luther Foundation.

The Federalist article points out that the charge against Bishop Pohjola and one of the three charges against Dr. Räsänen were for statements made years before the law they are accused of violating was passed!  Pullman quotes Lorcan Price, an attorney involved with the case:

“The fact that Bishop Juhana is even in this trial is Kafkaesque, it’s insane,” Price said. “He’s being charged with something he did as the head of a charitable foundation, the Luther Foundation, that publishes theological documents, for a document he didn’t write that expresses mainstream, orthodox Christian teaching.

We Americans often take for granted just how free we are, even compared to other democracies.  Our legal system forbids “double jeopardy”; that is to say, someone acquitted of a crime cannot be tried again for the same crime.  A “not guilty” verdict is final.  Prosecutors cannot appeal the verdict, though a defendant can appeal a “guilty” verdict.  In the words of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution “nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.”
But in Finland, if a court finds a defendant “not guilty,” the prosecutors can appeal.  So whether Dr. Räsänen and Bishop Pohjola are found innocent or guilty, their case will likely be appealed to the Finnish Supreme Court, and then, if they lose, to the European Court of Human Rights.  Pullman points out that a decision there could set a precedent for all European nations, most of which have similar laws to Finland, determining whether religious freedom must be curtailed in the name of LGBT affirmation.
In fact, the legal decisions may well have an impact in the United States, which is also trying to work out those issues.

And yet, some good things are coming from the case.

Before this case, Rasanen and Pohjola’s theological booklet was printed years ago in a few hundred copies and mostly used within tiny Lutheran churches. Their prosecution has caused it to be distributed around the world and translated into several other languages, Price said.

“This obscure little pamphlet has made its way around the world thanks to the efforts of the prosecutor to shut it down,” he noted.

Being targeted for their faith has given Rasanen and Pohjola a global platform for preaching the Christian message of forgiveness for all sins and the deep importance to Christians of the Bible as the very Word of God. Rasanen told The Federalist that because of her case, European media are quoting Bible verses and people are debating their meaning. She says she’s received emails from people saying her case has prompted them to start reading the Bible, which the pastor’s wife and grandmother of nine says she’s read repeatedly since age 16. . . .

“Many people and journalists around the world regularly ask me: ‘What keeps you going, from where do you find the courage to speak up?’” Rasanen told The Federalist. “My motivation comes from the Bible and from my will to have an impact on the society. A conviction based on the Christian faith is more than a [superficial] opinion. The early Christians did not renounce their faith in lions’ caves, why should I then renounce my faith in a court room? I believe it is my calling and honor to defend the foundational rights and freedoms at this point of my life.”

 

Photo:  The Supreme Court of Finland, Helsinki by Tomisti – work by uploader, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2120699

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