Wrap-up of two days in court: Conviction would be devastating for church in Finland


Northern Europe

Evert van Vlastuin, CNE.news

Bishop Pohjola smiles after two days in court, while Mrs. Räsänen (left) leaves the court house. Photo CNE, Danielle Miettinen

A conviction of Räsänen for insulting homosexuals? It would be devastative for the Church of Finland.

This said, Lutheran Bishop Juhana Pohjola in a press conference for foreign media on Friday evening, after two days in court in Helsinki. In 2004, he published a brochure containing a Christian view of marriage and sexuality written by politician and doctor Päivi Räsänen. Now he and the MP are on trial for group defamation of homosexuals.

In 2019, Räsänen read in the newspaper that police were investigating a post by her on Twitter and Facebook. She had called out the Evangelical Lutheran Church for supporting the Pride gay parade.

Sometime after the report, she contacted the police; the message turned out to be true. From 2011-2015, as Minister of the Interior, she was responsible for policing.

Last year, she and the bishop appeared in the District Court in Helsinki, which acquitted them of all charges. However, the prosecutor decided to appeal. The hearings for that were on Thursday and Friday.


A conviction for hate speech would greatly harm the church, Pohjola argued. "Our church would then be seen as criminal. Our teaching would come under suspicion. Many people would turn away from the church to avoid getting guilty by association."

Räsänen agreed with that assessment. "I therefore pray that the Court of Appeal comes to the same conclusion as the District Court last year and acquits us," she said.


Also, during the hearings this week, the prosecutors reiterated that this case is not about faith and theology. An "empty claim", said director and lawyer Paul Coleman of the organisation ADF, working with Räsänen. "Throughout, the prosecutors engaged in discussions about God, the Bible and sin. Systematically, they rejected that a person's being can differ from his actions. Clearly, there is a lot of theology and anthropology behind that."

Räsänen's Finnish lawyer, Matti Sankamo, had "high trust" in a good decision, he said in the press conference. He has worked in Finnish courts himself. "Those deliberately don't talk about theology. I will, therefore, be surprised if they do now."

Sankamo also defended Räsänen in court last year. On Friday night, he said he had heard "substantially nothing new" from the prosecutors this week.


According to Coleman, a condemnation in Finland does not directly impact jurisprudence in other countries. "But it is a barometer of the legal climate. Judges in other countries also read each other's rulings for other cases. That's why Räsänen's acquittal is also important for Christians in other countries."

Usually, judges have 30 days to reach a verdict. At the end of the hearing, they reported Friday they needed more time behind. They promised to deliver a verdict by 30 November.



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