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Dr. Päivi Räsänen

Prosecution appeals to Supreme Court in Finland’s Bible Trial

Bishop Juhana Pohjola (left) and Dr. Päivi Räsänen (right) at the appeal hearings in Helsinki in November 2023. Photo: ELMDF.

FINLAND – The prosecution of Finnish Member of Parliament, Dr. Päivi Räsänen, and Bishop Juhana Pohjola of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF) are not yet at an end. On January 12, the prosecution announced that it would appeal the decision exonerating the pair to Finland’s Supreme Court.

The two were charged in 2021 with hate speech for their articulation of historic Christian teaching on human sexuality. Charges centre around a 2004 booklet authored by Dr. Räsänen, as well as comments made by her during a radio interview and a tweet (which included a picture of a Bible verse). Bishop Pohjola was charged as the publisher of the 2004 booklet.

The decision to prosecute the pair has drawn widespread concern internationally over the state of freedom of religion and freedom of speech in Finland. The two were initially brought to trial at the Helsinki District Court in 2022, with the prosecution repeatedly questioning them on matters of faith and doctrine. They were eventually acquitted unanimously by a panel of three judges, who declared that “it is not the role of the district court to interpret biblical concepts.” The prosecution appealed that decision to the Helsinki Court of Appeals. In November 2023, that court also acquitted the pair unanimously on all charges.

Now Bishop Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen must wait to hear whether the Supreme Court will accept the case. In the meantime, the International Lutheran Council (ILC) is calling for continued prayer for the Finnish politician and bishop. “I encourage Christians around the world to continue to remember Bishop Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen in prayer,” said Rev. Dr. Klaus Detlev Schulz, General Secretary of the ILC. “They have already endured years of fear and uncertainty as a result of this unjust prosecution. May God give them courage to continue their faithful witness to Christ and His Word, and may He give them comfort in the midst of ongoing persecution.”

The ILC has strongly advocated on behalf of Dr. Räsänen and Bishop Pohjola over the past several years as they faced investigation and trial. That support includes a 2021 public letter of support for the two signed by the leaders of 45 Lutheran church bodies from around the world. The ILC’s 2022 World Conference in Kenya made a similar show of support when church leaders elected Bishop Pohjola to serve as Chairman of the ILC.

The International Lutheran Council is a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies dedicated to the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and grounded in the authority of Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions.

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Finnish Bishop and Member of Parliament acquitted in “Bible Trial” appeal

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

FINLAND – Bishop Juhana Pohjola of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF) and Dr. Päivi Räsänen, Finnish Member of Parliament, have been acquitted on all charges in a unanimous decision by the Helsinki Court of Appeals. The two had been charged with hate crimes for their expression of historic Christian teaching on human sexuality.

“For me, this has been not only a legal but also a spiritual battle,” Bishop Pohjola said. “It is important for our church to be able to teach publicly what we understand to be the Word of God, the created order, and natural law. I have a calling as a Christian, as a pastor, to guard the faith and to teach it publicly—and then to carry the cross. Carrying the cross is the price we pay in this age to be witnesses for Christ.”

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

“We were united all the time with Dr. Räsänen,” Bishop Pohjola continued. “There was no discussion that we step back but instead wholeheartedly stand together for the Word of God, for the Gospel of Christ.”

The charges stemmed from a 2004 booklet written by Dr. Räsänen and published by Bishop Pohjola which articulates the historic Christian understanding of sexuality. Dr. Räsänen was also charged for two other statements, one of which was a tweet with an image of a Bible verse. The decision to prosecute the prominent Finnish politician and a Lutheran cleric drew widespread international concern over the state of religious freedom and free speech in Finland.

“While I celebrate this victory wholeheartedly, I’m also saddened at the thought of the enormous state resources expended over the last four years to prosecute us for nothing more than the peaceful expression of our Christian faith,” said Dr. Räsänen. “The basic human right to free speech remains under serious threat in Finland and around the world. No one should be punished for peacefully expressing their beliefs, and we are grateful that the court has upheld this core freedom.”

Dr. Räsänen speaks to reporters during Finland’s “Bible Trial.” Image: Alliance Defending Freedom.

“There have been some difficult moments,” Dr. Räsänen continued, reflecting on the toll more than four years of investigation and prosecution have taken. But, she said, “I decided that whatever comes—whatever the consequences will be—I will not give up. Because I felt that this is not only my opinion, it is the Word of God.”

Bishop Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen initially faced trial in 2022, during which time the Prosecutor General repeatedly questioned their religious beliefs about Scripture, hermeneutics, and sin. A panel of three judges ultimately ruled that they be acquitted on all charges, stating that “it is not the role of the district court to interpret biblical concepts.” But the prosecution appealed, leading to hearings at the Helsinki Court of Appeals from August 31 to September 1, 2023.

The decision from the Helsinki Court of Appeals to uphold the district court’s decision may not be the end of the story either. The prosecution has indicated it may seek permission to appeal to the Supreme Court of Finland.

“We give thanks to God for the news that Bishop Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen have been acquitted,” said Rev. Dr. Klaus Detlev Schulz, General Secretary of the International Lutheran Council (ILC). “Lutherans across the globe have watched the unfolding situation with grave concern since authorities first began investigating the pair in 2019. We are grateful for Bishop Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen’s bold witness to Christ in the face of government pressure. May God continue to bless and strengthen them as they wait to see whether the prosecution will again appeal the decision to a higher court.”

The International Lutheran Council has expressed strong support for Bishop Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen throughout the past four years as they endured investigation and trial. That support was notably seen in a 2021 public letter from the ILC signed by the leaders of 45 Lutheran church bodies from around the world. Representatives to the ILC’s 2022 World Conference in Kenya made another show of support for Bishop Pohjola when they elected him to serve as the new Chairman of the ILC.

The International Lutheran Council is a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies dedicated to the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and grounded in the authority of Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions.

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

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.

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“Bible Trial” in Finland to resume at Court of Appeals

Bishop Juhana Pohjola and Dr. Päivi Räsänen speak before trial proceedings on February 14, 2022. (Photo: ELMDF).

FINLAND – From August 31 to September 1, Finland’s “Bible Trial” is scheduled to resume, this time at the Helsinki Court of Appeals.

In 2022, Bishop Juhana Pohjola of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF) and Dr. Päivi Räsänen, Finnish Member of Parliament, were put on trial for their expression of historic Christian teaching on human sexuality. The charges stemmed from the 2004 publication of a booklet authored by Dr. Räsänen and published by Bishop Pohjola, as well as other public statements by Dr. Räsänen, including a tweet which featured an image of a Bible verse.

The decision to prosecute the two drew widespread international concern over what the case meant for freedom of religion and freedom of speech in Finland. The International Lutheran Council (ILC) called for the charges to be dropped, publishing a letter of protest signed by 48 ecclesiastical leaders representing 45 Lutheran church bodies from across the world. “The actions of the Finnish State in prosecuting Christians for holding to the clear teaching of the very words of Jesus regarding marriage and sex (Matthew 19:4-6) are egregious,” the letter states. “And this particularly so since the accused clearly affirm the divinely given dignity, value, and human rights of all, including all who identify with the LGBTQ community.”

The trial—which took place in January and February of 2022—brought those concerns to a head, with observers expressing shock over the Finnish Prosecutor General’s attack on the defendants’ religious beliefs. While suggesting in her opening remarks that the trial would not be about the Bible, the Prosecutor General nevertheless repeatedly challenged Bishop Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen on religious doctrine, questioning them on the nature of Scripture, hermeneutics, and the Christian understanding of sin.

Ultimately, a three-judge panel at the District Court of Helsinki unanimously ruled that Bishop Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen should be acquitted on all charges. In their decision, they stressed that “it is not the role of the district court to interpret biblical concepts,” and further ordered the state to pay the legal costs of the defense.

The Prosecutor General subsequently appealed the decision. The Helsinki Court of Appeals will take up the matter on August 31 and September 1.

In July, the International Lutheran Council reaffirmed its support for Bishop Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen in the leadup to the hearings at the Court of Appeals. “This represents nothing less than a years-long relentless attack against free speech, religious expression, personal moral integrity, and limited government’s proper sphere of jurisdiction,” the new letter says. “We call on all people of good will to condemn this unconscionable prosecution, to take a stand for freedom of speech and freedom of religion for all, and to pray for Bishop Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen and their acquittal.”

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A Reaffirmation of the ILC’s 2021 letter protesting religious persecution in Finland

FINLAND – The International Lutheran Council (ILC) and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) have published a new letter reaffirming their support for Bishop Juhana Pohjola of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF) and Dr. Päivi Räsänen, Finnish Member of Parliament. Bishop Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen are being prosecuted in Finland for their expression of historic Christian teaching.

“We call on all people of good will to condemn this unconscionable prosecution, to take a stand for freedom of speech and freedom of religion for all, and to pray for Bishop Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen and their acquittal,” the letter states. “When we compromise on freedom for just one or two, we ultimately place freedom at risk for all.”

The new letter, which is signed by ILC General Secretary Timothy C.J. Quill, LCMS President Matthew C. Harrison, and LCMS Director of Church Relations Jonathan E. Shaw, reaffirms an earlier 2021 ILC statement entitled “A Protest and Call for Free Religious Speech in Finland: An International Lutheran Condemnation of the Unjust Criminal Prosecution of the Rev. Dr. Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen, and a Call for All People of Good Will to Support the Freedom of Religious Expression in Finland.” That statement was signed by 48 ecclesial leaders and 45 church bodies and associations, representing hundreds of millions of Lutherans worldwide.

Bishop Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen were put on trial in 2022 for the publication of a 2004 pamphlet which had articulated historic Christian teaching on human sexuality. While the Helsinki District Court acquitted them unanimously in 2022, Finland’s Prosecutor General appealed the decision. Bishop Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen will face trial again at the Helsinki Court of Appeals from August 22-24, 2023.

The new letter condemns the continued prosecution, saying: “This represents nothing less than a years-long relentless attack against free speech, religious expression, personal moral integrity, and limited government’s proper sphere of jurisdiction as articulated in the Constitution of Finland, the European Convention on Human Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”

Download the full letter here or read it below:






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