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

FINLAND – The Supreme Court of Finland has announced it will allow prosecutors to appeal the exoneration of Finnish Member of Parliament, Dr. Päivi Räsänen, and Bishop Juhana Pohjola of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland. A date for the trial has not yet been set.

Dr. Räsänen and Bishop Pohjola were first charged with hate speech in 2021 for their articulation of historic Christian teaching on human sexuality. They stood trial at the Helsinki District Court in 2022 but were unanimously acquitted by a panel of three judges, declaring: “It is not the role of the district court to interpret biblical concepts.” That decision was appealed to the Helsinki Court of Appeals, where the two were again unanimously acquitted on all charges in 2023.

“I’m not surprised but I am disappointed by the Supreme Court’s decision to grant leave to appeal,” Bishop Pohjola said in response to the latest developments. “I am confident that the Supreme Court will also deliver an acquittal which, as a precedent, may in the future help to ensure that no one else in a state under the rule of law has to endure such an incomprehensible and tiresome process—a situation which we have been facing now for nearly five years.”

The charges against Dr. Räsänen and Bishop Pohjola focus on a 2004 booklet by Dr. Räsänen, as well as comments made by her during a radio interview and in a tweet (which included a picture of a Bible verse). Bishop Pohjola was charged for his role as the publisher of the 2004 booklet. Following the ruling of the Helsinki Court of Appeals, the prosecution has appealed only two of the three acquittals to the Supreme Court: those related to the booklet and the tweet.

In response to the Supreme Court’s decision to allow another appeal, Dr. Räsänen said that she is “ready to continue to defend free speech and freedom of religion before the Supreme Court and, if need be, also before the European Court of Human Rights.” She continued: “I have considered it a privilege and an honour to defend freedom of expression, which is a fundamental right in a democratic state.”

In the face of state-sanctioned persecution, Bishop Pohjola continues to encourage Christians to speak openly about their faith. “Although I’m accused of hate speech incitement against a group of people, we continue boldly to teach the intrinsic value of every human being and also God’s will and design for human sexuality and family,” he said. “This is not the time to step back and be silent but in love and truth to confess the good created order and God’s institution of marriage between a man and a woman, and to share from the empty tomb Christ’s wonderful gift of forgiveness of sins for all people.”

The ongoing prosecution of Dr. Räsänen and Bishop Pohjola has drawn global expressions of dismay and concern over the state of freedom of religion and freedom of speech in Finland. “The news of the Finnish Supreme Court to hear the case against Bishop Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen is disturbing to all who have followed the situation closely for some time now,” said Rev. Dr. Klaus Detlev Schulz, General Secretary of the International Lutheran Council (ILC). “The trial process seems endless and tiring. Our thoughts and prayers are with both Dr Rasanen and Bishop Pohjola in hope of a ruling that finally exonerates them of all prosecution.”

The ILC has drawn repeated attention to the situation in Finland, encouraging prayer, organizing a speaking tour, and issuing a public letter signed by the heads of 45 Lutheran church bodies worldwide. In another show of support, church leaders gathered in Kenya for the ILC’s 2022 World Conference elected Bishop Pohjola to serve as Chairman of the ILC. As he and Dr. Räsänen face the prospect of another trial, Bishop Pohjola is expressing gratitude for all those who have supported and prayed for them: “I am thankful for all the support, encouragement, and intercession among ILC churches and beyond.”

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.