May 22 2023
WASHINGTON – Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) has received a response from the U.S. State Department saying that the department has “directly engaged Finnish officials on” the cases of Dr. Päivi Räsänen and Rev. Dr. Juhana Pohjola. The Finnish Christians continue to be the targets of prosecution from Finland’s government for expressing their sincere religious views in a non-violent manner.
“Religious freedom remains under threat in Finland even though the court acquitted Dr. Räsänen and Rev. Dr. Pohjola more than a year ago. I appreciate the State Department’s attention to this pressing issue and urge it to continue to advocate for religious liberty and for Finland to abandon its efforts to prosecute faith. People shouldn’t be subjected to criminal prosecution for expressing their sincere religious views in a non-violent manner, yet the Finnish government is attempting for a second time to convict these people of faith,” said Kennedy.
Kennedy voiced concerns over this prosecution with the U.S. State Department’s Ambassador-at-Large in the Office of International Religious Freedom, Rashad Hussain, and U.S. Ambassador to Finland, Douglas Hickey, and has urged the U.S. State Department to engage the Finnish government over its refusal to accept the acquittal of Räsänen and Pohjola.
According to the State Department, the Finnish government’s appeals process will likely not result in a hearing until August 2023, but the U.S. embassy will continue to engage on the issue with officials and religious communities in Finland.
“As we have communicated to our counterparts, promoting respect for and protecting freedom of religion or belief remains an important U.S. foreign policy priority. The U.S. Embassy in Helsinki has closely monitored these cases and has raised them in discussions with Finnish government counterparts, as well as with religious and civil society leaders,”the State Department told Kennedy.
Räsänen and Pohjola were unanimously absolved of criminal liability for expressing their religious beliefs on March 30, 2022, and the court ordered Finnish prosecutors to pay nearly $67,000 in legal fees. The Finnish government, however, appealed the acquittal.
Kennedy originally wrote to the State Department in March 2022 to raise concerns about Finland’s prosecution of non-violent expressions of faith. The prosecution of Räsänen and Pohjola occurs while Europe continues to witness anti-Christian hate crimes and hostility toward Christian-led organizations throughout the continent.
The State Department’s May 2023 response is available here.