Religious Freedom on Trial in Finland

Steven Mosher
written by Christopher Manion
February 15, 2022
Reproduced with Permission
Population Research Institute

On February 14, a court in Finland heard arguments in one of the most significant cases regarding human rights and religious freedom in recent years.

Member of Parliament and medical doctor Paeivi Raesaenen and Bishop-Elect and Dean Juhana Pohjola have been charged by Finland's Prosecutor General with "hate crimes" for publicly expressing their Christian beliefs.

According to the International Lutheran Council (ILC), the charges stem from a 2004 booklet, published by Luther Foundation Finland, which articulates historic Christian teaching on human sexuality.

Dr. Raesaenen authored the booklet, "Male and Female He Created Them: Homosexual Relationships Challenge the Christian Concept of Humanity," eighteen years ago.

The text, which is available in English, recounts the Christian understanding of marriage, the path of Dr. Raesaenen's own conversion, and the history of the Finnish Parliament's legalization of homosexual partnerships which, Raesaenen argues, led in practice to the legalization of same-sex marriage.

Raesaenen's text provides an able and often impressive description of the "cultural revolution" in Finland and other Scandinavian countries, as well as the legal consequences that followed. She specifically argues that the legislation was used by radicals in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland to abandon the biblical notion of marriage and allow the blessing of homosexual marriages, an issue which has riven the Catholic Church, primarily in Germany but in the rest of Europe as well as the United States.

In sum, the work is little short of stunning in its clarity, brevity, and logic. Clearly, if this booklet is condemned as criminal, and its author and publisher are sentenced to prison as a consequence, it augurs a traumatic and convulsive future not only in Finland, but the entire West.

But the Finnish Prosecutor General thinks otherwise. When Dr. Raesaenen tweeted a picture of a Bible verse at Finland's state church to criticize its co-sponsorship of a homosexual parade in 2019, the prosecutor began his investigation. Since Dean Pohjola is editor-in-chief of Luther Foundation Finland's publications--including the booklet--he also was charged in the indictment.

The ILC disputes the charge, pointing out that, when the Prosecutor General began an investigation in 2019, an earlier investigation by Helsinki Police had concluded that no laws had been broken. "The booklet was published in 2004; Finland legalized same-sex marriage in 2017," the ILC statement read.

When the prosecution began, the ILC objected , insisting that the booklet merely upheld historic Christian teachings on human sexuality. It supported Dean Pohjola's claim that "the police have already thoroughly investigated and concluded that this is not a criminal offense. It is our job to teach the entire Word of the Bible in peace, including on marriage as created by God."

According to The Federalist's Joy Pullman, who has been closely following the case, Dr. Raesaenen has been a model of composure during her ordeal. After the first day of her trial last month, Raesaenen told Pullman that, "when so many people were praying for the day, God also answered the prayers. It was quite a hard day, but I thought it was a privilege to stand for the freedom of speech and the freedom of religion and stand for the truth of the Bible."

"As a Christian, I do not want to and cannot discriminate against or despise anyone created by God," Dean Pohjola said when he was charged. "Every human being, created by God and redeemed by Christ, is equally precious. At the same time," he continued, "this does not remove the fact that, according to the Bible and the Christian conception of man, homosexual relations are against the will of God, and marriage is intended only between a man and a woman. This is what the Christian church has always taught and will always teach."

"Recent actions in Finland have created an international scandal which continues to grow," said Rev. Dr. Timothy Quill, General Secretary of the ILC. "The implications of the decision to charge Juhana Pohjola and Paeivi Raesaenen are clear: if the authorities are willing to do this to a respected pastor, reverend doctor, and Bishop-Elect, as well as a Member of Parliament and former Minister of the Interior, then that sends a message of fear and intimidation to everyone in Finland who follows the Scripture's teaching on human sexuality."

Commenting on Dr. Quill's remarks, Rev, Bruce Crabtree, an American pastor, warned that "Persecution is just around the corner for the USA. Christian leaders. Persecution is already here for church members trying to live their faith."

That view is affirmed by human rights lawyer Paul Coleman of the Alliance Defending Freedom International, who is assisting on the case. Coleman told Pullman last November that these cases were a "canary in the coalmine" for freedom of speech throughout the Western world.

For Coleman, this case could be a watershed for the persecution of Christianity in the West, due to its distinctly theological nature and how far it has stretched the interpretation of hate crimes laws that exist in most Western countries.

"I would characterize the day as a modern-day Inquisition or heresy trial," Coleman said in a phone interview from Helsinki last month after the trial's first day. "And the heresy was that Paeivi and Bishop Juhana were on trial against the new sexual orthodoxy of the day."

The court will issue its verdict within the next month. If convicted, Raesaenen and Pohjola face fines or up to two years in prison

"Two years ago, I would never have believed that this would happen in Finland," Raesaenen said .

Two years can be a long time - or they can go by quite quickly. It's already been a year since we reported on the U.S. House of Representatives' passage of HR5, the "Equality Act."

Or consider the " Global Respect Act ," which passed the House on Feb 8, 2022, on a similar party-line vote. I need not tell you which party voted in favor of these two pieces of radical, anti-Christian legislation. You already know.

Should either of these radical pieces of legislation ever become the law of the land, Finland's trial today will be replicated in every courtroom in America.