Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Aug 11, 2023 / 13:46 pm (CNA).
As two prominent Finnish Christians prepare to go on trial for citing biblical teachings on marriage and sexuality, a group of 16 U.S. lawmakers appealed to the Biden administration to come to their defense.
Member of Finnish Parliament Päivi Räsänen and Lutheran Bishop Juhana Pohjola are facing a retrial for allegations of “hate speech” based on comments they made about the Bible and the Lutheran Church’s teaching on homosexuality.
A court initially dismissed the charges against both of them, but prosecutors appealed the decision and both will be retried on Aug. 22. While violations of the hate-speech laws can carry a penalty of up to two years in prison and the possibility of fines, the prosecution is demanding only tens of thousands of euros in fines, with the exact amount it is seeking unclear.
The 16-member coalition, led by Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, is asking the U.S. ambassador to Finland, Douglas Hickey, and the U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, Rashad Hussain, to “continue to raise concerns” about this “legal assault” on the two Finnish Christians.
“No American, no Finn, and no human should face legal harassment for simply living out their religious beliefs,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter.
Finnish prosecutors brought charges against the two Lutherans in 2022 for alleged hate speech violations that the prosecutors determined were “likely to cause intolerance, contempt, and hatred towards homosexuals.”
The charges against Räsänen claim that she violated hate speech laws when she wrote a 2004 pamphlet about the Lutheran teaching on sexuality, defended that teaching in a 2019 radio debate, and posted a Tweet that criticized Lutheran participation in a gay pride parade while citing a Bible verse. The charge against Pohjola is for publishing the pamphlet that Räsänen wrote.
“This prosecutor is dead set on weaponizing the power of Finland’s legal system to silence not just a member of Parliament and Lutheran bishop but millions of Finnish Christians who dare to exercise their natural rights to freedom of expression and freedom of religion in the public square,” the lawmakers wrote. “History will remember this case for either stopping the madness or as the beginning of the end as the West declares open war on Christianity.”
The coalition warned that the precedent set in this case “will have worldwide ramifications.”
“For years, we and many others have raised the alarm that the West was experiencing a hostile takeover by radical secularists — guided by open hostility and rancid antagonism toward Christianity — and that one day people of faith would face trial for merely living out their beliefs,” the letter noted. “In Finland, that day has come, and a guilty verdict will only expedite this [disorder’s] arrival in our courtrooms.”
In March 2022, the district court sided with both Christians, noting that the prosecutors lacked an overriding social reason for interfering in their free expression and adding that it is not the court’s job “to interpret biblical concepts.”
“It is abundantly clear — the process is the punishment,” the lawmakers noted. “The selective targeting of these high-profile individuals is designed to systematically chill others’ speech under the threat of legal harassment and social stigmatism. Neither MP Räsänen or Bishop Pohjola are remotely questionable individuals. MP Räsänen is a mother to five and grandmother to 10, a medical doctor, and has served in the Finnish Parliament for almost 30 years. Bishop Pohjola has been a pastor for over 20 years, served as the bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland and currently serves as chairman of the International Lutheran Council.”
Alliance Defending Freedom International is representing Räsänen in the trial. Sean Nelson, legal counsel for global religious freedom at ADF International, commended the lawmakers for supporting their client.
“Freedom of religion or belief — and the freedom to express that belief — is a fundamental human right,” Nelson said in a statement. “We welcome this letter of support from members of the House and invite individuals worldwide to speak out as well. Nobody should fear criminal charges for expressing a peaceful opinion on social media.”
The International Lutheran Council reaffirmed its support for Räsänen and Pohjola in a July 20 statement.
“This represents nothing less than a yearslong relentless attack against free speech, religious expression, personal moral integrity, and limited government’s proper sphere of jurisdiction as articulated in the Constitution of Finland, the European Convention on Human Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” the statement read in part.
The 2023 Religious Freedom in the World report, published by Aid to the Church in Need, highlighted a trend in Western countries in which Christians are persecuted through compelled speech, hate-speech laws, and censorship. The authors referred to this trend as “polite persecution,” a term that has been used by Pope Francis to reference persecution that avoids outright violence against believers.
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