The prosecution brought by the State Prosecutor against Päivi Räsänen, Member of Parliament, Bishop Juhana Pohjola, the Finnish Luther Foundation, as well as the Finnish Broadcasting Corporation (Yle) is moving on to the next stage. In this trial, commonly known as “the Bible tribunals”, the Helsinki District Court rejected the charges in its thorough decision of 30 March 2022. However, the Prosecutor appealed the decision to the Court of Appeals. At the Prosecutor’s request, the hearing at the Court of Appeals scheduled for next week was postponed by a week. The Helsinki Court of Appeals will handle the matter in courtroom number 1 on Thursday, August 31 and in courtroom number 3 on Friday, September 1.
We invite all parishioners and other readers of this news article to pray for the hearing at the Court of Appeals. May God’s will be done in our society.
The prosecution argues that Päivi Räsänen’s writing Male and female He created them, her tweet about the Pride parade and her discussion on Ruben Stiller’s radio programme constitute incitement against a group of people. Thus far, the police concluded in a preliminary investigation that the booklet does not violate the law, and most recently the District Court reached the same conclusion.
The charges have attracted national and international attention as they have been assessed to endanger freedom of speech and religion. The legality of the charges has also been questioned. After the District Court’s decision, Yleisradio [Finnish Broadcasting Corporation] published a news item: “Prosecutor placed words into Päivi Räsänen’s mouth she had not said – YLE goes through the false allegations.” In a later YLE news item, State Prosecutor Anu Mantila expressed her dissatisfaction with the verdict, stating it was the Prosecutor’s duty to explain the meaning of Päivi Räsänen’s statements, i.e. how the statements should be interpreted objectively: “Prosecutor denies misrepresenting Päivi Räsänen’s statements – slams acquittal and explains differences in interpretation with a horse analogy.”
The international attention the case has received is considerable and it is expected that during the Court of Appeals hearing, the domestic media outlets will be joined by international news agencies in releasing notes on the matter. Freedom of speech and freedom of religion are still widely important issues in Western countries.
As part of the attention the case has received, the International Lutheran Council ILC has republished its statement of support for Päivi Räsänen and Bishop Juhana Pohjola, which it published after the District Court’s processing. The ILC is a joint organization of dozens of confessional Lutheran churches, of which the Mission Diocese is also a member. The statement of support has also been separately signed by the leadership of the Mission Diocese’s sister church, the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, LCMS. The statement of support can be read in English from the attached pdf file: An Update and Reaffirmation–A Protest and Call for Free Religious Speech in Finland – English – LCMS ILC 20230720 or you can read it below:
An International Lutheran Condemnation of the Unjust Criminal Prosecution of the Rev. Dr. Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen, and a Call for All People of Good Will to Support the Freedom of Religious Expression in Finland”
“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:21). In this short sentence, Christ Jesus teaches His followers to honor and obey two different authorities, each in its proper sphere. Give to Caesar (government) what is rightfully his: honor and obedience regarding external matters such as taxes, laws that protect the body and punish evil, and earthly justice. And give to God what is rightfully His: honor and obedience regarding internal matters such as baptism into Christ, a clean conscience through forgiveness, speech that praises God and witnesses to others, love that shows mercy, and hope that looks to God. But where the government trespasses into God’s sphere of internals, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29; see also Augsburg Confession XVI, XXVIII).
Outrageous government trespass has again occurred. In a pamphlet written in 2004, the Rev. Dr. Juhana Pohjola, Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, and Dr. Päivi Räsänen, Finnish member of parliament, expressed their deeply held, historically Christian beliefs on male-female marriage and human sexuality, emphasizing God’s good creation and the inherent dignity of all people. In 2021 (!), the Prosecutor General of Finland saw this as “hate speech” toward those with a different sexual orientation and brought charges. In 2022, the Helsinki District Court issued a unanimous, clear, and total acquittal adding that “it is not for the court to interpret Biblical concepts.” Unfazed, the prosecutors appealed the acquittal (allowed under Finnish law) and won a second trial to convict Drs. Pohjola and Räsänen of “hate speech.” This trial will be held August 22–24, 2023, at the Helsinki Court of Appeals. 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 (articles 9, 10), and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (articles 18, 19).
We reaffirm the comprehensive June 25, 2021 International Lutheran Council statement, “A Protest and Call for Free Religious Speech in Finland: An International Lutheran Condemnation of the Unjust Criminal Prosecution of the Rev. Dr. Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen, and a Call for All People of Good Will to Support the Freedom of Religious Expression in Finland,” signed by 48 ecclesial leaders and 45 church bodies and associations, but representing the moral commitments of hundreds of millions worldwide. The full text is available for study at https://ilconline.wpenginepowered.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/A-Protest-and-Call-for-Religious-Freedom-in-Finland-English.pdf/
We call on all people of good will to condemn this unconscionable prosecution, to take a stand for freedom of speech and freedom of religion for all, and to pray for Bishop Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen and their acquittal. When we compromise on freedom for just one or two, we ultimately place freedom at risk for all.
Subscribed July 20, 2023, the Commemoration of Elijah, the Prophet:
Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod
Rev. Dr. Jonathan E. Shaw
Director of Church Relations
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod
Rev. Dr. Timothy C. J. Quill
International Lutheran Council