Lutheran bishops have decried the “egregious” actions of Finland in prosecuting a Christian politician over her views on sexuality and marriage.
Päivi Räsänen, a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland and former Minister of the Interior, has been charged with hate speech against homosexuals.
The charge is in connection to her views on sexuality expressed on social media, a talk show, and in a 2004 booklet called “Male and Female He Created Them.”
If found guilty, she faces up to six years in prison.
The decision to prosecute has been condemned by the International Lutheran Council (ILC), who called it outrageous and unfair.
“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 statement reads.
The Rev Dr Juhana Pohjola, Bishop-elect of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, is facing the same charge for distributing the 2004 booklet.
“The accused clearly affirm the divinely given dignity, value, and human rights of all, including all who identify with the LGBTQ community,” says the letter from the ILC.
“We Lutherans make this strong confession along with Drs. Pohjola and Räsänen,” it continues.
“The vast majority of Christians in all nations, including Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, share these convictions.
“Would the Finnish Prosecutor General condemn us all? Moreover, shall the Finnish State risk governmental sanctions from other states based on the abuse of foundational human rights?”
The petition has been signed by 33 leaders within the ILC, and another 11 from the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference.
The charge against Räsänen is expected to be heard by Helsinki District Court in November.
The Prosecutor General’s office has previously said Räsänen’s comments are punishable under Finnish law because they are “discriminatory hate speech”.
This week, Räsänen submitted a request to the Helsinki District Court asking for the case to be thrown out on the grounds that her views are protected by Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and that the state should be neutral on religious issues.
“[The court] is not the right place for Bible interpretation,” she said.
“As a criminal matter, the applicability of biblical texts has not previously been discussed in court in Finland.”
Despite facing jailtime, Räsänen has said she will not be silenced and has encouraged other Christians who share her views to speak up.
“I will defend my right to confess my faith, so that no one else would be deprived of their right to freedom of religion and speech,” she said.
“The more Christians keep silent on controversial themes, the narrower the space for freedom of speech gets.”
Paul Coleman, Executive Director of The Alliance Defending Freedom, which is providing her legal counsel in the case, said the decision to prosecute “creates a culture of fear and censorship”.
“If committed civil servants like Päivi Räsänen are criminally charged for voicing their deeply held beliefs, it creates a chilling effect for everyone’s right to speak freely,” he said.