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Finnish Court Rules Against Conscientious Discrimination

Abstract: Pastors fined in criminal court for discrimination against women in ministry.

In Finland on November 30, the Hyvinkää District Court imposed fines on two male pastors of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, Tauno Tuominen, acting vicar at the Lutheran parish at Hyvinkää, and Ari Norro, a visiting pastor. The two were found guilty of gender discrimination against a woman pastor, Petra Pohjanraito, in an incident that occurred in March of this year. A member of the parish's church council was also fined.
Pr. Norro, a member of the Lutheran Evangelical Association in Finland (LEAF), was guest preacher at a communion service in Hyvinkää. Shortly before the service, he declared that he could not, for reasons of conscience, share the altar with a woman, even though she had been scheduled to officiate on that Sunday.
In the exchange that followed, Norro was supported by a member of the church council, who is also the head of the local branch of LEAF. Tuominen, Pohjanraito's immediate superior, was on hand, but did not take part in the discussion. The court noted in its decision that no one came to Pohjanraito's defense, and that she was left with no choice but to leave.
The guest preacher was convicted of discrimination and sentenced to pay 20 income-linked day fines. The chair of the local LEAF chapter was sentenced to 15 day fines.
In defending himself, Pr. Norro cited the principle of freedom of religion. However, the court found that he had exercised his religious freedom by agreeing to preach in the church without preconditions. The court also noted that the LEAF members were aware that Hyvinkää parish was bound by a report by the Lutheran Bishops' Conference last year calling for the equal treatment of pastors.
Pr. Tuominen was also sentenced to 20 day fines for job discrimination and neglecting his official duties (for his failure to intervene on Pohjanraito's behalf). The court found that it would have been his duty as acting vicar to prevent the pastor from being put at a disadvantage because of her gender, but acknowledged that Tuominen had a very short time to make a decision in the situation.
Pr. Norro said after the decision that he would appeal the case to the Court of Appeals.

(Vol. II, vi December 7, 2007 )

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