FINLAND – From August 31 to September 1, Finland’s “Bible Trial” is scheduled to resume, this time at the Helsinki Court of Appeals.
In 2022, Bishop Juhana Pohjola of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF) and Dr. Päivi Räsänen, Finnish Member of Parliament, were put on trial for their expression of historic Christian teaching on human sexuality. The charges stemmed from the 2004 publication of a booklet authored by Dr. Räsänen and published by Bishop Pohjola, as well as other public statements by Dr. Räsänen, including a tweet which featured an image of a Bible verse.
The decision to prosecute the two drew widespread international concern over what the case meant for freedom of religion and freedom of speech in Finland. The International Lutheran Council (ILC) called for the charges to be dropped, publishing a letter of protest signed by 48 ecclesiastical leaders representing 45 Lutheran church bodies from across the world. “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 letter states. “And this particularly so since the accused clearly affirm the divinely given dignity, value, and human rights of all, including all who identify with the LGBTQ community.”
The trial—which took place in January and February of 2022—brought those concerns to a head, with observers expressing shock over the Finnish Prosecutor General’s attack on the defendants’ religious beliefs. While suggesting in her opening remarks that the trial would not be about the Bible, the Prosecutor General nevertheless repeatedly challenged Bishop Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen on religious doctrine, questioning them on the nature of Scripture, hermeneutics, and the Christian understanding of sin.
Ultimately, a three-judge panel at the District Court of Helsinki unanimously ruled that Bishop Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen should be acquitted on all charges. In their decision, they stressed that “it is not the role of the district court to interpret biblical concepts,” and further ordered the state to pay the legal costs of the defense.
The Prosecutor General subsequently appealed the decision. The Helsinki Court of Appeals will take up the matter on August 31 and September 1.
In July, the International Lutheran Council reaffirmed its support for Bishop Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen in the leadup to the hearings at the Court of Appeals. “This represents nothing less than a years-long relentless attack against free speech, religious expression, personal moral integrity, and limited government’s proper sphere of jurisdiction,” the new letter says. “We call on all people of good will to condemn this unconscionable prosecution, to take a stand for freedom of speech and freedom of religion for all, and to pray for Bishop Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen and their acquittal.”