By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News reporting from Budapest, Hungary
BUDAPEST (Worthy News) – Hungarians will rally at Finland’s embassy in Budapest against the trial of two Finnish Christian leaders who may face jail for sharing Biblical views on homosexuality, organizers say.
Sunday’s protest comes before Monday’s resumption of Finnish court proceedings featuring legislator Paivi Räsänen and Lutheran Bishop Juhana Pohjola.
The two defended their decision to write and publish a booklet explaining Christian teachings about sex and marriage that prosecutors called “hate speech.”
Their trial resonates in Hungary where the government is under European Union pressure to overturn a child protection law that critics view as anti-LGBT+ legislation.
The law effectively bans education or “propaganda” on LGBT+ issues to minors, including schools.
Hungary also has a government agency providing aid to persecuted Christians, though it doesn’t openly support the February 13 protest.
If convicted, Räsänen and Pohjola could see up to two years imprisonment, but prosecutors say they will seek fines of as much as 13,000 euro ($14,840).
During last month’s trial opening arguments, which resume Monday, Finnish prosecutors described quotations from the Bible as “hate speech.”
Finland’s top prosecutor’s office put the Bible on trial, an unprecedented move for a secular court, said Paul Coleman, a human rights lawyer with the Alliance Defending Freedom International group. Coleman assisted in the Finns’ legal defense and was present during the trial’s opening.
“The prosecutor began the day by trying to explain that this case was not about beliefs and the Bible. She then, and I’m not kidding, she then proceeded to quote Old Testament Bible verses,” Coleman said earlier.
He added that experienced Finnish trial attorneys “didn’t think the Bible had ever been read out like that in a prosecution.” Never before has a Finnish court had to decide whether quoting the Bible is a crime, Coleman stressed.
Back in Budapest, protestors view the trial as a marker for similar faith and freedom cases in the West amid perceived growing pressure from hardline activists against traditional Christian family values.
“Räsänen, who posted a Bible verse on her social media page, quoting Apostle Paul, could face up to two years in prison,” noted rally organizer Sára Kulifai.
“Her trial will be a test of religious freedom, the outcome of which could affect all Europe. For how long can Christians speak freely?” added Kulifai, a prominent journalist. “Can the Bible be chained? Who will be the next victim dragged to the court?” she wondered in a statement.
She also noted that the trial comes some 2,000 years after apostle Peter faced a trial due to his faith, saying in Acts 5:29 that “We ought to obey God rather than men.”
The landmark case on hate speech and religious freedoms has also been described as “shocking” by Finland’s Christian community.
Charges against Räsänen related to perceived anti-LGBT+ remarks, including on social networking site Twitter when she quoted Romans 1:24–27.
Referring to that Bible verse, she criticized the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland (ELCF), one of the two national churches, for its links to the Helsinki Pride movement.
Räsänen of the Christian Democrats party described homosexuality as a “disorder of psychosexual development” and labeled gays as “dysfunctional,” prosecutors said.
The legislator, a former Interior minister, spoke about her views on a nationally aired talk show on Finnish public radio. And she penned a 23-page booklet titled “Male and Female He Created Them,” prosecutors noted.
Pohjola is being charged for publishing Räsänen’s booklet, which argues against same-sex marriage. It contrasts LGBT+ identities with the “Christian notion” of what it means to be human.
She describes same-sex attraction as inherently sinful and possibly the result of a “negative developmental disorder”, concluded prosecutors.
It was released in 2004 by Luther Foundation Finland. Prosecutors say her remarks are an “affront to the equality and dignity” of homosexuals.
“This statement […] is likely to provoke contempt, intolerance, and even hatred towards homosexuals”, they added.
Bishop Juhana Pohjola is also charged with incitement to hatred for publishing Räsänen’s remarks on the website of the Luther Foundation of Finland.
The bishop, 49, said he fears that Räsänen’s quoting Romans and publishing a book about the Bible and sexuality are considered criminal incitement.
“I do not so much fear the outcome of the court case, but the strong signal it gives to many: to be silent. I fear self-censorship and intimidation,” he said in an interview.
The 62-year-old former minister has denied the charges and says she acted in the name of “freedom of expression and religion.”
Räsänen — a doctor by profession — was seen carrying a copy of the Bible in her hand as she arrived at the Helsinki district courtroom last month.
“I hope it will be clear today that I do not wish to offend any group of people, but that it is about saving people for eternal life,” she told media.
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