An interfaith coalition has offered prayers of solidarity to two evangelical Christians facing their third trial for declaring that homosexuality violates the Bible, a position prosecutors call “War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity.”
Despite two unanimous acquittals, Finland’s state prosecutor has taken an elderly member of parliament and a Lutheran bishop before the Supreme Court to answer for their traditional Christian beliefs on sexuality. Dr. Päivi Räsänen, who has served in parliament for 29 years, and Bishop Juhana Pohjola of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF), are facing “spiritual persecution” for upholding the Scripture, said a letter signed by dozens of Christian and Jewish leaders.
“Once again you face unjust charges. For almost half a decade, you have confronted targeted legal harassment for simply living out your Christian faith, the direct result of not just political persecution but also spiritual persecution,” says the letter, which was led by Advancing American Freedom and released today. “Now, despite twice being unanimously declared not guilty at the Helsinki District Court and the Helsinki Court of Appeals, the prosecutor has filed another appeal, potentially forcing a third trial at Finland’s Supreme Court.”
Authorities have centered their legal case on a five-year-old social media post made by the MP, a member of the Christian Democrats Party, asking why her Lutheran church body would take part in an LGBT “Pride 2019” event. The post on Twitter, now X, included a photo of Romans 1:24-27, which clarifies that homosexual behavior is sinful.
Two years later, in April 2021, prosecutors charged Räsänen and Pohjola with “agitation against a minority” under the nation’s law against “War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity.” Police arrested Räsänen and subjected her to 13 hours of police interrogation before her trial. Prosecutors dubbed the Bible verses in her tweet, a booklet the two wrote in 2004 expounding on biblical doctrine titled “Male and Female He Created Them: Homosexual Relations Challenge the Christian Concept of Humanity,” as well as comments Räsänen made on the radio in December 2019 as “hate speech.”
Räsänen and Pohjola were first acquitted by the Helsinki District Court on March 30, 2022. The three-judge panel ruled that prosecutors had violated the Christians’ right to freedom of expression contained in Section 12 of the Finnish Constitution, as well as noting the thorny legal questions posed if secular judges begin ruling on matters of religious doctrine. “It is not for the district court to interpret biblical concepts,” the court declared.
But within days, then-Prosecutor General Raija Toiviainen appealed the charges. Räsänen then faced a two-day trial last August 31-September 1. The Court of Appeals unanimously acquitted MP Räsänen and Bishop Pohjola on November 14, 2023. Under the law, social media posts must be intended to offend, and “there must be an overriding social reason for interfering with and restricting freedom of expression,” they ruled. The judges ordered the state to pay both defendants’ legal fees.
Finland’s current state prosecutor appealed the dismissal once again earlier this month.
“It is shocking that the Finnish state prosecutor has decided to target MP Räsänen for a third time, because she politely expressed her religious beliefs in public,” Arielle Del Turco, director of the Center for Religious Liberty at Family Research Council — and who signed the letter — told The Washington Stand. “So far, the Finnish courts have been clear in affirming Räsänen’s right to express her religious beliefs. However, the process of being dragged through court is often the punishment itself.”
The thirst to continually prosecute the grandmother of 10 exposes the government’s intolerance and malice toward traditional Christian viewpoints, said Paul Coleman, executive director of ADF International, which is supporting Räsänen’s legal defense. “Dragging people through the courts for years, subjecting them to hour-long police interrogations, and wasting taxpayer money to police people’s deeply held beliefs has no place in a democratic society,” said Coleman. “As is so often the case in ‘hate speech’ trials, the process has become the punishment.”
The U.S. letter offers “prayers and encouragement” to the embattled pair “on behalf of the millions of Americans who support freedom of speech and freedom of religion.”
The letter assures that “you do not stand alone,” because “each one of us stands alongside you,” note its writers. “We are watching, and we are praying for you. The world is watching, and the world is praying for you.”
The signatories hope their fellow believers, and all those who value freedom of conscience and expression, will make that promise real as the West falls progressively under the sway of illiberal secular repression. “Christians around the world should continue to pray for and voice their support for MP Räsänen,” said Del Turco.
The faith leaders signing the letter include Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, former U.S. Senator Sam Brownback, former U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf, former Ambassador Ken Blackwell, and Rabbi Yaakov Menken of the Coalition for Jewish Values, among many others.
The Lutheran pair’s case also attracted high-level support from Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), who named Räsänen, detransitioner Chloe Cole, collegiate swimming record-holder Riley Gaines, and concerned parent Scott Smith his personal “heroes” at FRC’s 2023 Pray Vote Stand Summit. “She gives you hope,” said Roy. “She gives you a belief that we can stand up and stand athwart that kind of tyranny.”
Räsänen has reflected on the words of Jesus to rejoice in suffering, taking pride that each trial has allowed her to quote and explain the Bible’s teachings in depth.
“After my full exoneration in two courts, I’m not afraid of a hearing before the Supreme Court,” said Räsänen. An “acquittal from the Supreme Court would set an even stronger positive precedent for everyone’s right to free speech and religion. And if the court decided to overturn the lower courts’ acquittals, I am ready to defend freedom of speech and religion as far as the European Court of Human Rights.”
The letter reads in full:
To the Honorable Päivi Räsänen, M.D. and the Reverend Dr. Juhana Pohjola,
We have been following your case since 2019 and on behalf of the millions of Americans who support freedom of speech and freedom of religion, we write to show our support for you in these trying times and to offer our prayers and encouragement.
Once again you face unjust charges. For almost half a decade, you have confronted targeted legal harassment for simply living out your Christian faith, the direct result of not just political persecution but also spiritual persecution. Now, despite twice being unanimously declared not guilty at the Helsinki District Court and the Helsinki Court of Appeals, the prosecutor has filed another appeal, potentially forcing a third trial at Finland’s Supreme Court.
We are watching and we are praying for you. The world is watching, and the world is praying for you. As you once again prepare to stand trial for freedom of speech and freedom of religion, know that you do not stand alone. Rather, each one of us stands alongside you, praying and encouraging you along the way.
Paul Teller, Executive Director, Advancing American Freedom
Frank Wolf, Former Member, U.S. Congress
Ambassador Sam Brownback, Co-Chair, International Religious Freedom Summit
Dr. Gregory P. Seltz, Executive Director, The Lutheran Center for Religious Liberty
Eric Patterson, Executive Director, Religious Freedom Institute
Tony Perkins, President and former Chair, Family Research Council and US CIRF
Ken Blackwell, Former U.S. Ambassador, United Nations Human Rights Commission
Maureen Blum, Executive Director, Catholics Count
Nina Shea, Senior Scholar and Director, Center for Religious Freedom, Hudson Institute
Douglas D. Punke, Senior Pastor, Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, Fort Wayne, Indiana
Bunni Pounds, President, Christians Engaged
Rabbi Yaakov Menken, Managing Director, Coalition for Jewish Values
McKenna Wendt, Advocacy Manager, International Christian
Arielle Del Turco, Director of the Center for Religious Liberty, Family Research Council
Charlie Gerow, CEO, Quantum Communications
Robert F. Schwarzwalder, Jr., Ph.D., Senior Lecturer, Honors College, Regent University
Bethany Kozma, CEO, Keystone Policy
Robert K. Fisher, Meeting Coordinator, Conservatives of Faith
Kelly Monroe Kullberg, General Secretary, American Association of Evangelicals
C. Preston Noell III, President, Tradition, Family, Property, Inc.
David Kullberg, Co-Founder, Scandinavian American Gospel Alliance
Richard A. Vigurie, Chairman, FedUpPac.org
Jason Poblete, Esq., President, Global Liberty Alliance
Eunie Smith, President, Eagle Forum of Alabama
Melissa Ortiz, Founder, Capability Consulting
Dran Reese, President, Salt and Light Council
Saulius “Saul” Anuzis, President, 60 Plus Association
James L. Martin, Founder/Chairman, 60 Plus Association
John Suarez, Executive Director, Center for a Free Cuba
Nancy Schulze, National Strategic Director, Physicians for Reform
Ben Johnson is senior reporter and editor at The Washington Stand.
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