Two Christian leaders from Finland went on trial in Helsinki on January 24 for publicly declaring the Bible’s teachings on sex and marriage. Longtime MP Paivi Rasanen and Lutheran Bishop Juhana Pohjola defended in court their decision to write and publish, respectively, a pamphlet explaining Christian teachings on sex and marriage.
In opening arguments for the trial, which will resume on February 14, Finnish prosecutors called the Bible quotes “hate speech”. Finland’s attorney general’s office has essentially put the Bible on trial, an unprecedented move for a secular court, said Paul Coleman, a human rights lawyer with Alliance Defending Freedom International who assists legal defense for Finns. and was present during Monday’s trial.
“The prosecutor started the day trying to explain that this case was not about beliefs and the Bible. She then, and I’m not kidding, she then quoted Bible verses from the Old Testament,” Coleman said in a phone interview with The Federalist after the trial ended for the day. “The trial attorneys, the Finnish trial attorneys who have been in and out of court every day for years, said they didn’t think the Bible had ever been read like that in a lawsuit.”
Never before has a Finnish court had to decide whether quoting the Bible is a crime. Human rights observers see this case as an important marker of whether the persecution of citizens by Western governments because of their speech and beliefs is increasing.
Coleman said “it was very surreal” to see Rasanen, a doctor and pastor’s wife, and Pohjola, whom The Federalist interviewed in person in November, being questioned by lay prosecutors about details of Christian theology in court. secular. The two Christians had the opportunity to essentially preach the gospel of Jesus Christ in court.
“Most of the day was devoted to the role of the Bible in society,” said Coleman, an Englishman who listened with the help of translators. “The prosecutor repeatedly asked whether we in Finland abide by Finnish law or the Bible, as if these things were so inherently contradictory that one had to choose one.”
The long day in court ended with the prosecutor cross-examining Pohjola on his theology, Coleman said, “asking for his interpretation of the Bible, just pure and simple theology.” The prosecutor even asked the bishop, apparently without knowing the historic import of this question, “Does he follow God’s law or does he follow Finnish law? Coleman noted in amazement.
“I would characterize the day as a modern Inquisition or trial for heresy,” Coleman concluded. “And the heresy was that Paivi and Bishop Juhana were judged against the new sexual orthodoxy of the time.”
Christianity is the state religion of Finland, but the Finnish State Church has repeatedly distanced itself from historical Christian teachings which are clearly stated in the Bible. Rasanen’s criticism of Finland’s state church sponsoring a pride parade, posting a tweet with an image of Bible verses on it, is one of three charges against her.
The only accusation that applies to the two Christians stems from a theological booklet that Rasanen wrote in 2004, published by Pohjola. Christians define marriage as the lifelong union of one man and one woman exclusively and only consider sex within these limits as a moral good.
“The booklet is based on the Christian understanding of being human,” Pohjola told the court, according to to a Finnish journalist on site, Danielle Miettinen. “Sin affects every human being to the core. But the grace of God is also universal. He wants to forgive the sins of every human being.
The booklet that Rasanen wrote, titled “God Created Male and Female,” also affirms Christian teachings about the preciousness of every human life to God. Christians also believe in complete human equality both in the sinfulness of every human being and in God’s forgiveness for every sin. Rasanen and Pohjola have repeatedly stated publicly that they are not motivated by hate, but by love in affirming the historic Orthodox Christian faith.
“The saving gospel of Jesus Christ was given to us in the Bible,” Rasanen told reporters outside court Monday, according to in Miettinen. “The cross of Christ shows the greatest love for heterosexuals and homosexuals.”
U.S. lawmakers, churches around the world, and international human rights organizations critical the trial as blatant religious persecution and a restriction of the natural human right to freedom of expression.
“We are very concerned that the use of Finnish law amounts to a secular blasphemy law,” wrote U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, R-Florida; Josh Hawley, R-Missouri; James Lankford, R-Oklahoma; Jim Inhofe, R-Oklahoma; and Mike Braun, R-Indiana, in a declaration. “It could open the door to prosecution against other devout Christians, Muslims, Jews and followers of other faiths for publicly stating their religious beliefs.”
Members of the US House said in a public letter that the Finnish government’s prosecution of these Christians for their religious beliefs “raises serious questions about the extent of Finland’s commitment to protecting the religious freedom of its citizens”.
The Finnish law used to prosecute the two Christians has a growing number of international equivalents, including in many US states and cities. They are often referred to as sexual orientation and gender identity laws. Such laws penalize the natural rights to freedom of expression and religious exercise, which almost all Western and democratic countries claim to guarantee to their citizens.
Coleman also noted that these speech offense laws are also generally vague, making them prone to prosecutorial abuse.
“Hate speech laws are so vaguely worded, they’re so subjective, they’re ripe for arbitrary application,” he said. “They are set up for people to pick and choose. If you have enough speeches to go on – and in this case you have two decades of a public servant. In this case, the police recommended not to prosecute, but they ignored it. So you can choose and find anything.
If convicted, Rasanen and Pohjola could face fines or up to two years in prison.
Due to the amount of material the prosecutor presented after combing through Rasanen’s 20 years of public statements and media appearances, the trial took a long time on January 24 and is set to conclude on February 14, Coleman told The Federalist. The court’s decision will be made between two and four weeks after that.
— Mirja Kolehmainen (@CarryYou88) January 24, 2022