Appeal hearings in Finnish “Bible Trial” come to a close

by | Sep 1, 2023

Bishop Juhana Pohjola (left) and Dr. Päivi Räsänen (right) at the appeal hearings in Helsinki. Photo: ELMDF.

FINLAND – The latest round of hearings in Finland’s “Bible Trial” have now come to a close. Hearings were held August 31 to September 1 at the Helsinki Court of Appeals.

Bishop Juhana Pohjola of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF) and Finnish Member of Parliament, Dr.  Päivi Räsänen, have been charged with hate crimes for their articulation of historic Christian teaching on human sexuality. The statements objected to by the prosecution include a 2004 booklet authored by Dr. Räsänen and published by Bishop Pohjola, a radio discussion by Dr. Räsänen, and a tweet by Dr. Räsänen which included a picture of a Bible verse.

The trial has drawn international concern over the state of freedom of religion and freedom of speech in Finland. The International Lutheran Council is urging continued prayer for the defendants.

“I’m overwhelmed by the support and prayers pouring out from all over the world,” said Bishop Pohjola. “This is very encouraging for us in the ELMDF, and for Dr. Räsänen and me personally.”

Bishop Pohjola speaks to supporters outside the Helsinki Court of Appeals. Photo: ELMDF.

The two were first investigated in 2019, charged in 2021, and put on trial in 2022. They were ultimately acquitted by a three-judge panel who declared: “It is not the role of the district court to interpret biblical concepts.” The prosecution appealed the decision, however, leading to the new hearings in Helsinki.

“This has been a tiring process—already four years since its beginning—and in many ways the process itself is punitive,” noted Bishop Pohjola. “But it is also an opportunity for us to give good witness to biblical truth, to God’s created order, and to His grace in Christ Jesus.”

The appeal hearings did not see the prosecution present any substantial new evidence, instead arguing that the judges in the district court failed to apply the law appropriately. The appeal centered, as the initial trial did, on the religious beliefs of the defendants and the public expression of their faith.

“In the court today, although the prosecutor said that this is not about theological issues, the case nevertheless dealt with many basic questions of Christian doctrine: what is creation, what is the Bible, what is God’s love, what is sin,” Bishop Pohjola remarked. “That is what is shocking: the prosecution is arguing that such religious and biblical teachings should not be protected in and of themselves, and that restrictions should be put on our speech. But in a free society, there must be room for religious groups to publicly teach and confess their faith.”

A judgment from the Helsinki Court of Appeals is due by November 30.


By Mathew Block

Mathew Block is Communications Manager for the International Lutheran Council. He is also editor of The Canadian Lutheran magazine, and formerly served as Communications Manager for Lutheran Church–Canada.

Signup for ILC Updates