US Congressmen call Finland's prosecution of Christian MP 'a clear abuse of government power'

Päivi Räsänen (c) is being prosecuted over a pamphlet on sexuality, and comments made on Twitter and a TV show.(Photo: ADF International)

The US should consider placing Finland under "special watch" because of its prosecution of a Christian MP and Lutheran bishop for expressing traditional views on marriage and sexuality, several Congressmen have suggested.

Six members of the House of Representatives have urged the United States Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) to consider adding Finland to the US State Department's 'Special Watch List' of religious freedom violators.

The Finnish Prosecutor General decided in April to charge the Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF), the Rev Dr Juhana Pohjola, and Christian Democrat MP, Dr Päivi Räsänen, with "ethnic agitation based on a 2004 pamphlet discussing sexuality".

Dr Räsänen faces additional charges for remarks about sexuality on a TV show in 2018 and in a tweet in 2019.

The Republican Congressmen called the decision to prosecute "a clear abuse of government power".

"Citizens should never be forced to choose between a fundamental freedom - their faith - and legal persecution," they write.

The letter to USCIRF chair Nadine Maenza has been signed by two Texas Representatives, Chip Roy and Michael Cloud, Byron Donalds of Florida, Paul Gosar of Arizona, Jody Hice of Georgia, and Doug Lamborn of Colorado.

The trial is due to begin in January. If convicted, Dr Räsänen, former Minister of the Interior, could face two years in prison on her three charges and the possibility of a fine. Bishop Pohjola also faces two years in prison.

The Congressmen continued: "These criminal prosecutions raise serious questions regarding the extent of Finland's commitment to protecting freedom of religion for its citizens, as agreed to with its participation in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and other multi-lateral organizations.

"Punishing citizens for remarks made on social media and a booklet that has been in the public eye for more than 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 Congressmen also backed a letter in May from 10 academics and human rights advocates to the USCIRF calling for the US Secretary of Treasury to issue sanctions against Finland's top prosecutor for filing charges against Bishop Pohjola and Dr Räsänen.

They conclude: "We strongly condemn the actions of the Finnish government to persecute Christians for speaking their beliefs and urge USCIRF to take these actions into consideration when recommending which countries should be added to State Department's Special Watch List, established under the International Freedom Act of 1998."

Responding to their letter, Finnish state prosecutor Anu Mantila told Christian Today that freedom of expression and freedom of religion "are not unlimited".

"We don't accept any kind of pressure against the independent National Prosecutor Authority and the Prosecutor General of Finland," she said.

She continued: "We emphasize that charges against Mrs Räsänen and Mr Pohjola concern hate speech, which is insulting, degrading and violates dignity of homosexuals.

"The Prosecutor General doesn't charge Mrs Räsänen for her traditional opinion on marriage between homosexuals nor for quoting the Bible or explaining its texts. Quoting biblical texts in itself is not a crime in Finland.

"Mrs Räsänen and Mr Pohjola have freedom of religion like anyone else. They have the freedom to express their religious opinions and views as well as other opinions.

"However, this freedom does not justify speech that can arouse intolerance, contempt and even hatred towards homosexuals or any other minority."

Dr Räsänen and Bishop Pohjola have denied using hate speech and stressed that their comments were about the sinfulness of homosexual practice according to the Bible's teaching.

Correction: This article has been updated to clarify that Mrs Räsänen faces up to two years in prison, not six as originally stated.