Six members of Congress have condemned Finland for prosecuting a Christian politician who is facing six years in prison for sharing her biblical beliefs on sexuality and marriage, voicing their concern with the top federal religious freedom advisory committee.
Led by Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, the Republican House members sent a letter to Nadine Maenza, the chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, on Wednesday.
They condemned the prosecutions of Parliament Member Päivi Räsänen and Evangelical Lutheran Mission Bishop Juhana Pohjola, which they argue to be “infringements on religious freedom.”
Räsänen has been charged with three counts of ethnic agitation over statements expressing her beliefs about human sexuality and marriage. Pohjola, the bishop-elect of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, has been charged with one count of ethnic agitation for publishing Räsänen’s booklet.
The lawmakers urged the bipartisan panel that advises Congress and federal government on international religious freedom issues to consider these prosecutions when recommending which countries the U.S. State Department should place on a special watch list of countries that engage in religious freedom violations.
“The Finnish government is currently prosecuting well-known Christians for publicly supporting long-standing Christian doctrine,” the letter reads.
Räsänen publicly voiced her opinion on marriage in a 2004 booklet on sexual ethics, describing marriage as between one man and one woman. She also expressed her views on a 2019 radio show and tweeted church leadership on the matter.
The House members argue that the prosecutions “are specific examples of the Finnish government’s violation of freedom of religion.”
“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,” the letter reads.
Prosecutors in Finland determined that Räsänen’s previous statements disparage and discriminate against LGBT individuals and foment intolerance and defamation.
The mother of five maintains that her expressions are “legal and should not be censored.”
“I cannot accept that voicing my religious beliefs could mean imprisonment,” said Räsänen in a statement previously issued by ADF International, a legal organization representing her. “I do not consider myself guilty of threatening, slandering or insulting anyone. My statements were all based on the Bible’s teachings on marriage and sexuality.”
Signatories of Wednesday’s letter include Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga, a pastor and former first vice president of the Georgia Baptist Convention; Doug Lamborn, R-Colo.; Paul Gosar, R-Ariz.; Michael Cloud, R-Texas; R-Fla.
The Republican lawmakers say 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 letter says. “At the center of religious liberty is the freedom for individuals to live in accordance to their conscience and beliefs.”
“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,” the lawmakers add. “Those rights are fundamental and unalienable to the whole human race, and it is critical to the flourishing of both the human soul and civil society.”
In his address this week at an Alliance Defending Freedom freedom office in Washington, D.C., Pohjola warned that his prosecution illustrates that “the Gospel of Christ is at stake” because of postmodernism and “cancel culture.”
He believes hate speech laws have been unfairly used against him.
“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,” Pohjola said. “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.”
In May, professors from Ivy League institutions like Harvard University, Yale University and Princeton University were among legal scholars to urge USCIRF to pressure the State Department to sanction Finland’s prosecutor general for prosecuting Pohjola and Räsänen.
“No reasonable balance of the goods of public order, civil equality, and religious liberty can ever support this suppression of the right to believe and express one’s beliefs. The prosecutions are straightforward acts of oppression,” they wrote.
“To uphold the internationally recognized rights of freedom of expression and religious liberty, the United States must now respond to the abuses in Finland as it has recently responded to other violations of religious liberty in non-western nations.”
This summer, the International Lutheran Council issued a statement calling the prosecutions “egregious.”