Rory Leishman:

Faithful Canadians who look to Sacred Scripture as the ultimate authority on all matters of faith and morality should beware: They could soon end up in jail as a prisoner of conscience for upholding their honest Christian beliefs.

That is the fate now threatening Paivi Rasanen in Finland. She is a prominent medical doctor and long-standing member of the Finnish Parliament who led the Finnish Christian Democrats from 2004 to 2015 and was the country’s Interior Minister between 2011 and 2015. On June 18, 2019, Rasanen published a tweet challenging the leaders of her church — the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland — to explain their support for a Helsinki Pride festival. Under a screenshot of Romans 1:24-27, in which the Apostle Paul denounces homosexuality as sinful, shameful and unnatural, Rasanen pointedly asked: “How does the foundation of the church’s teachings, the Bible, fit with elevating sin and shame as reasons for pride?”

Like the Constitution of Canada, the Constitution of Finland guarantees “freedom of expression” and “freedom of conscience and religion.” In addition, the Finnish Constitution affirms “the right to profess and practise a religion” and “the right to express one’s convictions.” Given such explicit constitutional guarantees, one might assume that Rasanen could not be prosecuted for expressing her Christian convictions on sexual morality.

Alas, that is not so. On April 22, 2021, the Prosecutor General of Finland charged Rasanen with “agitation against a protected group,” an extraordinary section in a chapter of the Finnish Criminal Code on “War crimes and crimes against humanity,” which provides that it is a criminal offence punishable by up to two years in prison for a person to publish an opinion whereby “a certain group is threatened, defamed or insulted [sic] on the basis of its race, colour, birth, national or ethnic origin, religion or belief, sexual orientation or disability or on another comparable basis.”

Under the terms of this wide-ranging, speech-stifling law, the prosecutor laid one charge against Rasanen for her 2019 tweet and another for a 2004 pamphlet “Male and female He created them,” in which Rasanen upholds the traditional teachings of the Church on the nature of marriage as the voluntary union for life between a man and a woman.

In addition to prosecuting Rasanen, the state prosecutor has also charged Bishop Juhana Pohjola of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland with agitation against a minority group for publishing Rasanen’s pamphlet.

As justification for all these charges, state prosecutor Anu Mantila claims that in the 2004 pamphlet, Rasanen said “all homosexuals are and should be regarded as inferior” persons who are not “created by God like heterosexuals.” Rasanen stoutly denies the accusation. “Nowhere did I say that,” she insists. “These statements are completely contrary to my convictions. I have stressed many times that all human beings are created in the image of God and have equal dignity and human rights.”

Mantila also chastised Rasanen for espousing what Mantila calls the “fundamentalist” doctrine of “love the sinner, hate the sin.” In Mantila’s opinion, this maxim as it applies to homosexual sexual behaviour is insulting to homosexuals, because hating the sin is tantamount to hating the sinner.

Clearly, Mantila has no grasp of basic Christian theology. In a vain attempt to enlighten her, Rasanen explained: “God has created all human beings as His own image and we all have equal value, but we all are also sinners. Nobody’s human dignity decreases because of sin. God still loves the person but hates the sin. God so loved all the people, that He gave His only Son to die on the cross to suffer the punishment that belonged to us because of our sins. Jesus condemned the sin but loved the sinners.”

Granted, some people who consider themselves Christian spew hatred for homosexuals. Such behaviour is deplorable. Bishop Pohjola and Rasanen do not hate. They do not presume to judge anyone. As faithful Christians, they sincerely care for homosexuals and wish them nothing but the best.

Regardless of their good intentions, Mantila has zealously prosecuted Pohjola and Rasanen. But, so far, without success. On March 30, 2022, a three-judge panel of the Helsinki District Court unanimously acquitted both Pohjola and Rasanen. In reasons for judgment, the Court said: “it is not the role of the district court to interpret biblical concepts.” Quite so.

Mantila appealed. On Nov. 14, 2023, a three-judge panel of the Helsinki Court of Appeal likewise dismissed the charges against Pohjola and Rasanen. In an emphatic refutation of the prosecution’s case, the Court said it could find “no reason, on the basis of the evidence received at the main hearing, to assess the case in any respect differently from the District Court.”

That would seem to have definitively settled the matter. Yet, on Jan. 12, 2024, Finland’s implacable Prosecutor General announced a further appeal of the Pohjola and Rasanen cases to the Supreme Court of Finland.

The outcome of this final appeal has yet to be determined. In the meantime, Pohjola and Rasanen have incurred more than $100,000 in legal bills — a staggering amount for the great majority of faithful Christians in Finland that is bound to discourage many from publicly affirming their Biblical beliefs.

Could such a travesty of justice occur to Christians in Canada? Absolutely. The guarantees of freedom of speech and freedom of religion in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms are essentially worthless. Over the past 50 years, the Supreme Court of Canada has made clear that it no longer respects either its own valid precedents or the plain words of the Constitution as originally understood.

Furthermore, much like the Finnish law banning agitation against a protected group, section 319(2) of the Canadian Criminal Code states: “Everyone who, by communicating statements, other than in private conversation, wilfully promotes hatred against any identifiable group is guilty of an indictable offence and is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years.” The Trudeau government’s Bill C-63, the Online Harms Act, that is now before Parliament would increase the maximum penalty to five years.

In 2013, Parliament repealed the freedom-stifling, hate-speech provision of the Canadian Human Rights Act. Now, Bill C-63, the Online Harms Act, proposes to re-insert a far more dangerous hate-speech provision into human rights law, which provides that if the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal finds that a person has vilified a homosexual or a member of any other protected group, the Tribunal can order the offender to pay up to $20,000 in damages for pain and suffering to anyone who was victimised by the offender’s speech.

Note the potentially dire consequences. If anyone opines on-line that a biologically female athlete should not be forced to compete against a biologically male athlete who identifies as a female, the Tribunal could find the person guilty of hate speech and quickly render the offender bankrupt by levelling a fine of just one dollar for everyone who claims to have been victimised by the offender’s honestly held opinion.

No less alarming is Bill C-367, another act now before Parliament. This pernicious bill would eliminate the section of the Criminal Code that exempts any person from a hate-crime conviction “if, in good faith, the person expressed … an opinion based on a belief in a religious text.”

On this basis alone, theologically orthodox Christians and Jews in Canada should, indeed, beware. The government of Canada is clamping down on your natural rights to freedom of expression and freedom of religion. Like Bishop Pohjola and Rasanen, any Canadian, Christian or Jew, could soon end up in jail for steadfastly refusing to obey a court order to renounce belief in the plain teachings of Sacred Scripture on marriage and sexual morality.