A trial of two Christians in Finland who publicly stated mainstream religious teachings could reach the European Court of human rights. Its outcome could then affect identity and hate crime laws in Europe, the West, and the US.
For three years now, a member of Finland’s parliament, Paivi Rasanen, and Lutheran Bishop Juhana Pohjola have been prosecuted after Rasanen tweeted a picture of Bible verses in 2019, American Faith reported. Complaints about the tweet led to her persecution under Finland’s “hate crime” laws.
In the government probe that followed, investigators uncovered a theological pamphlet Rasanen wrote that was published by Pohjola 15 years earlier in 2004, for which they both were charged.
What was the act Finnish prosecutors considered a “hate crime?” The basic Christian teaching was that sex was reserved only for marriage, and the definition of marriage being between one man and one woman for life.
“The teachings concerning marriage and sexuality in the Bible arise from love to one’s neighbor,” Rasanen said in a Feb. 17, 2022, statement. “This case is about whether it is allowed in Finland to cite the Bible and to agree with it in topics that go against the tide and challenge the current ethos and thinking.”
“Being criminally charged for voicing my deeply held beliefs in a country that has such deep roots in freedom of speech and religion feels unreal,” Rasanen told The Federalist. “Two years ago, I would never have believed that this would happen in Finland.”
“This is a very serious issue, because for Christians, the Bible is the word of God, and there is no Christianity if you are not allowed to agree with the Bible,” Rasanen added.
“If the prosecution wins, the ability of pastors to preach the gospel is effectively over in Finland,” said Jyrki Anttinen, an attorney for Pojhola.
The charges against the two Christians also include an attempt to criminalize statements both made years before the current law being used to prosecute them existed.
Unlike the US, England, and some other countries, usually, only those convicted of crimes can appeal. But in Finland, prosecutors can appeal if they don’t win a conviction in their first round in court. This means the case could end up in the Finland Supreme Court, where if prosecutors lose, they can appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasburg, France.
Europe and the US have been increasingly restricting political and religious speech. That is especially the case in countries that are viewed as being “fashionably” conservative, such as Poland and Hungary, said attorney Lorcan Price, who is assisting the case for Alliance Defending Freedom International, while attending the Feb. 14 hearing in Helsinki.
Price says it is unclear whether Finland’s hate crime laws would ban controversial speech, but the country’s top prosecutor argues it does.
“The prosecutor believes the law means you can’t preach the gospel in public, but some believe it means you can’t directly incite violence,” Price pointed out.
If Finland’s prosecutor wins the case, it will mark an unprecedented expansion of existing identity laws in many European countries, also known as sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) laws. Many cities and states in the US also have similar laws. Democrats are already trying to make a nationwide law in the proposed “Equality Act” that could threaten religious speech in America.
“Such laws are typically so vague prosecutors can selectively target a huge range of political and religious speech,” according to human rights lawyer Paul Coleman, who works for Alliance Defending Freedom International and is assisting in the Finnish case, the Federalist reported.
In the US, several members of Congress recognize the threat to Christianity as a whole. US senators Mike Braun, Josh Hawley, James Inhofe, James Lankford, and Marco Rubio have urged international human rights watchdogs to monitor the case.
In a statement, the senator said, “it could open the door for the prosecution of other devout Christians, Muslims, Jews and adherents of other faiths for publicly stating their religious beliefs.”
Several other members of Congress have also asked the US government to take diplomatic actions against Finland if it convicts the two Christians for expressing their beliefs.