Victory for freedom of expression for the Finnish politician and bishop who… | news report


A Finnish court ruled Tuesday morning in favor of the free speech of a member of parliament and a Lutheran bishop, saying they have the legal right to say that homosexual acts are a sin and that marriage should be between a man and a woman.

The ruling was unanimous, upholding a lower court decision last year that was also unanimous.

“I am very happy,” said Päivi Räsänen, a Christian Democrat who has worked in Parliament for 28 years. “This is a tremendous victory for us, but also for everyone interested in the protection of fundamental freedoms. …No one should be punished for peacefully expressing their faith.”

Juhana Pohjola, bishop of the conservative, denominational Evangelical Lutheran Mission Church, said he and his family stopped and read Psalm 103 when they received the verdict: “Praise the Lord, my soul; all my being, praise his holy name. Praise, my soul, the Lord, and do not forget all the benefits of him” (vv. 1-2).

Pohjola was charged with hate speech for publishing Räsänen’s 23-page article. user information, Male and Female He created themin 2004. The text was part of the church’s catechetical series of Christian teachings on important topics.

Räsänen was charged under the hate crimes statute for the pamphlet, as well as a tweet condemning the mainline Lutheran church’s support for a Pride event in 2019 and a follow-up radio interview in which she said that, according to The Bible, “homosexual acts” are “sin and shame.”

According to prosecutors, these statements were not only offensive but likely to incite hatred and violence against LGBT people.

The Attorney General’s Office argued that such speech is not protected because it causes “intolerance, contempt and hatred” and therefore endangers lives.

More than 70 percent of Finns support same-sex marriage, which has been legal in the country since 2017. Most members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, the main church from which the Finnish denomination split Pohjola in the early 2000s also holds that position. The church does not currently celebrate same-sex marriages, but 54 percent would like that to change.

Many in Finland see the protection of LGBT people as the most critical civil rights issue of the moment.

Prosecutor Anu Mantila ran for office promising to do more to protect LGBT people. His case against Räsänen and Pohjola has received much national attention and widespread support from Finns.

“Offensive speech has a detrimental effect on people,” he argued in court. “If you put all the statements together, it is clear that they are derogatory towards homosexuals. “Condemning homosexual acts condemns homosexuals as human beings.”

Mantila argued that religious freedom, which is enshrined in Finnish law and in international law, which Finland recognizes, does not protect all readings of the Bible. Some interpretations, according to the prosecutor, should be sanctioned by law.

“You can’t say anything under the pretext of religion,” Mantila said. “You can quote the Bible, but what is criminal is Räsänen’s interpretation and opinion of the Bible verses.”

All three judges rejected his arguments.

“There must be a compelling social reason to interfere with and restrict freedom of expression,” the court stated. saying. “There is no reason to alter the final outcome of the District Court’s ruling.”

In 2022, the lower court ruled that “it is not for the District Court to interpret biblical concepts.”

The legal team defending Räsenän and Pohjola said in an online press conference that they were celebrating “the fantastic verdict”.

Paul Coleman, executive director of Alliance Defending Freedom International, described the ruling as a monumental victory.

“In a free and democratic society, everyone should be allowed to share their beliefs without fear of censorship,” he said. “Criminalizing speech through so-called ‘hate speech’ laws shuts down important public debates and poses a serious threat to our democracies. “We are relieved to see the courts enforcing the rule of law when state authorities go too far in trying to penalize and censor statements they do not like.”

Räsänen and Pohjola said they did not seek this legal dispute but were committed to seeing it through to the end.

“I will not apologize for what the apostle Paul said in the Book of Romans,” Räsänen said. “I decided that no matter what happens, whatever the conclusion or the outcome, I will not give up.”

Pohjola said that when he was first called to the local police station for questioning, the officers told him that the case would disappear if he took Male and Female He created them outside the internet. But he refused.

“For me, this is not just a cultural and legal battle but a spiritual battle,” he said. “This is my calling as a Christian, as a pastor: to guard the faith and teach it publicly and carry the cross.”

However, many in the Evangelical Lutheran Mission were relieved by the ruling. Pohjola said ministers sent him text messages when they heard about the ruling on the news, with messages such as: “We are very happy that our bishop is not labeled a criminal.”

There was a real fear, he explained, that the small Lutheran denomination could be branded “a criminal group, with a criminal agenda.” They have been reminded that public speaking can come at a cost.

“We cannot take freedom of expression and religion for granted. We have to defend it and use it,” Pohjola said.

However, the case may not be over. Government prosecutors can appeal to the Supreme Court. Finland’s highest court handles, on average, about 6 percent of cases.


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