State Department asked to put Finland on Religious Freedom Watch List for criminalizing Christian beliefs

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U.S. lawmakers are urging the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom within the State Department to consider placing Finland on its watchlist after the prosecutor general decided to press charges against a Protestant bishop and a member of Parliament for espousing the Biblical view on marriage.

Quick Facts

In a chilling example of the importance of free speech and freedom of religion, Finland is prosecuting a bishop and a member of Parliament for hate crimes. Their offense? A 2004 booklet on the biblical teachings on marriage and sexuality and a Bible verse posted on Twitter along with criticism of the Lutheran Church of Finland.

Bishop Juhana Pohjola, who is the bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, and Parliament member Paivi Rasanen face charges of ethnic agitation. Ethnic agitation is defined as:

“[a] person … makes available to the public or otherwise spreads among the public or keeps available for the public information, an expression of opinion or another message where a certain group is threatened, defamed or insulted on the basis of its race, skin color, birth status, national or ethnic origin, religion or belief, sexual orientation or disability or a comparable basis.”

In an interview, Pohjola claimed that in 2004 the booklet was released with “no fuss,” but because Finland changed the law in 2011, they are being prosecuted for supposed hate crimes. He stated that the indictment falls under the section of “war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

Pohjola is the editor of the Luther Foundation Finland and the webmaster of the organization’s website. Rasanen is the author of the booklet. The booklet remains on the website, leading to the charges.

The two were interrogated for hours.

Speaking at the offices of Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) in Washington, D.C., Pohjola said, “The Gospel of Christ is at stake.” He warned,

“When postmodernism first swept over Western countries, its basic core was denial of absolute truth. The only truth was that you must allow everyone to have his or her own subjective truth. This hyper-individualism continues, but it has now a different tone. If you are against LGBTQ+ ideology, so-called diversity, equality and inclusiveness, you are not only considered to be old-fashioned … but rejected as morally evil. This is what the prosecutor general understands her duty to be, to protect fragile citizens and victims from the intolerant and hateful Christians.” 

The letter, sent by six U.S. Representatives, contends that “punishing citizens for remarks made on social media and a booklet that has been in the public eye for 17 years is a clear abuse of government power. These actions by the Finnish government will undoubtedly have a chilling effect on free speech in Finland and the West.”

The letter continued,

“At the center of religious liberty is the freedom for all individuals to live in accordance to their conscience and beliefs. After all, James Madison famously wrote, ‘conscience is the most sacred of all property.’ Free people should not have to violate and recant their deepest convictions to remain a part of a free society. True religious liberty both protects an individual’s right both to hold beliefs that are unpopular with the prevailing cultural winds of the world, but also their right to live out authentically and profess the truths they hold dear without fear of government interference.”

In Pohjola’s speech, he said his decision to “hold on to this truth and publicly teach it no matter what the cost is not because we want to wage a cultural war in the society but to call people to repentance and through faith in Christ, receive forgiveness of sins and eternal life.”

That is the cost of the Gospel, and as persecution grows in Western nations, others like Pohjola will have to take a stand, not on hatred and bigotry, but on truth and love.

As Christians we must be prepared to stand up for the truth despite the threat or reality of persecution. As Americans we must emphasize the critical importance of the free exercise of religion and freedom of speech. The First Amendment does not promise us the right to worship in private, but the right to exercise our religion in public. Hate speech and antidiscrimination laws may sound like they promote equality, but what they really promote is totalitarianism by governments and idealogues who get to determine what constitutes hate.

There is no ethnic agitation in this circumstance, if for no other reason than that LGBT people are not an ethnicity. Despite what the left may want people to believe, sexual orientation is not a racial or genetic category, it is a choice. The choice to engage in such behavior means that one is opposing the teachings of the Bible and people have a right to expose it. There is no hatred or violence in teaching the truths of Scripture regarding marriage, yet because a bureaucrat says so, these two are accused of hate. For those applauding hate speech laws, be wary: One day the elite authoritarians may decide that, in fact, your speech and your beliefs are also hate. And then who will be left to speak up for you?