BREAKING: Finnish MP wins on all charges in major free speech trial

  • All charges against Finnish Parliamentarian Päivi Räsänen and Bishop Pohjola are unanimously dismissed following high-profile free speech trial
  • The former Finnish Minister of the Interior, faced three criminal charges for sharing her faith-based beliefs, including on Twitter

HELSINKI (30 March 2022) – A Finnish court has upheld the right to free speech by dismissing all charges against Finnish MP Päivi Räsänen and Bishop Juhana Pohjola. In a unanimous ruling the court concluded that “it is not for the district court to interpret biblical concepts”. The prosecution was ordered to pay more than 60,000 EUR in legal costs and has seven days to appeal the ruling.  

The former Minister of the Interior had been charged with “hate speech” for sharing her faith-based views on marriage and sexual ethics, in a 2019 tweet, a 2019 radio debate, and a 2004 pamphlet. The bishop faced charges for publishing Räsänen’s pamphlet for his congregation over 17 years ago. Their case has garnered global media attention this year, as human rights experts voiced concern over the threat this case posed to free speech in Finland. 

“I am so grateful the court recognized the threat to free speech and ruled in our favour. I feel a weight has been lifted off my shoulders after being acquitted. Although I am grateful for having had this chance to stand up for freedom of speech, I hope that this ruling will help prevent others from having to go through the same ordeal,” said Päivi Räsänen after her victory.    

Christian teachings on trial 

The high-profile trial received significant attention, particularly after the prosecution attacked core Christian teachings and cross-examined the bishop and Räsänen on their theology in court. The prosecutor began the first day of the trial by arguing that the case was not about beliefs or the Bible.  

She then proceeded to quote Old Testament Bible verses and criticize the phrase “love the sinner, hate the sin”. In their closing statement, the prosecution alleged that the use of the word “sin” can be “harmful” and called for heavy fines in the event of a guilty verdict.   

Free speech prevails 

Räsänen’s defence, supported by the legal advocacy organization ADF International, argued that finding Räsänen guilty would significantly damage free speech in Finland. What Räsänen said, they argued, was an expression of Christian teaching.  

The Court recognized that while some may object to Räsänen’s statements, “there must be an overriding social reason for interfering with and restricting freedom of expression.” The Court concluded there was no such justification. 

“We welcome the Helsinki District Court’s ruling. This is an important decision, which upholds the fundamental right to freedom of speech in Finland. In a free society, everyone should be allowed to share their beliefs without fear of censorship. This is the foundation of every free and democratic society. Criminalizing speech through so-called ‘hate-speech’ laws shuts down important public debates and poses a grave threat to our democracies,” continued Coleman, author of ‘Censored: How European Hate Speech Laws are Threatening Freedom of Speech’. 

Press conference at 16:00 CEST 

ADF International will host a press conference on 30th March at 16:00 CEST. Dr. Päivi Räsänen MP, Bishop Juhana Pohjola, and Paul Coleman, Executive Director of ADF International will be available for questions after their statements. Please register here to access the Zoom link: https://adfinternational.org/paivi-press-conference-invitation/      

International support for free speech  

On both days of the trial (24 January and 14 February) crowds gathered outside the Helsinki courthouse to express their support for the politician and the bishop. In Hungary, over 3000 people gathered in front of the Finnish Embassy in Budapest to demonstrate against the charges before the closing arguments were heard. 

Räsänen has also received letters of support from many denominations including the International Lutheran Council with Bishops and presidents of Synods from all over the world, the European Evangelical Alliance, Catholic and Pentecostal churches in Lithuania, representatives of the Evangelical, Catholic, Baptist, Pentacostal, Reformed and Unitarian churches in Romania, as well as the Evangelical Church of Macedonia, Christian NGOs in Latvia and other individuals.  

Several US Senators penned a letter addressed to Rashad Hussain, US Ambassador-At-Large for International Religious Freedom, expressing their concern over the “alarming” prosecution of Räsänen: “We are greatly concerned that the use of Finnish hate speech law is tantamount to a secular blasphemy law. It could open the door for prosecution of other devout Christians, Muslims, Jews and adherents of other faiths for publicly stating their religious beliefs,” read the letter. 

In January, UK MPs filed an Early Day Motion in parliament, highlighting the controversial prosecution and raising concerns about “the potential implications of that case for other countries”. 

Trial for a Tweet  

Police investigations against Räsänen started in June 2019. As an active member of the Finnish Lutheran church, she had addressed the leadership of her church on Twitter and questioned its official sponsorship of the LGBT event ‘Pride 2019’, accompanied by an image of Bible verses from the New Testament book of Romans. Following this tweet, further investigations against Räsänen were launched, going back to a church pamphlet Räsänen wrote almost 20 years ago. 

In the last two years, Räsänen attended several lengthy police interrogations about her Christian beliefs – including being frequently asked by the police to explain her understanding of the Bible.  

In April 2021, Finland’s Prosecutor General had brought three criminal charges against Räsänen. Two of the three charges Räsänen faced had come after the police made strong recommendations not to continue the prosecution. Räsänen’s statements also did not violate the policies of Twitter or the national broadcaster, which is why they remained freely available on their platforms. The Helsinki District Court has now acquitted Räsänen of all charges.  

Räsänen has served as a Finnish Member of Parliament since 1995. From 2004-2015 she was chair of the Christian Democrats and from 2011-2015 she was the Minister of the Interior. During this time, she held responsibility for church affairs in Finland. 

Source: adfinternational.org


Madrid takes to the streets against abortion and euthanasia

marcha por la vida

OSCAR DEL POZO | AFP

Benito Rodríguezpublished on 03/30/22updated on 03/30/22


The ‘staggering’ scale of persecution in the 21st century and how it can be addressed

Millions of people live in places where there are restrictions on belief.(Photo: Unsplash/Temitayo Aina)

Christian Parliamentarians and leaders have re-committed to tackling the “huge” problem of persecution around the world.

Fiona Bruce MP, the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB), told a fringe event at the Conservative Party Conference that an estimated 83% of people around the world are living in countries where there is some kind of restriction on beliefs.

“And the extent of this in the 21st century is not only largely unrecognised but simply staggering,” she said.

The Conservative MP for Congleton said that while it was “wonderful” to see a growing awareness of the problem among Parliamentarians, there was still more to be done.

She spoke of a need to improve religious literacy levels among Foreign Office workers, and for the UK to be “bolder and braver” in both holding governments across the world to account and calling out specific cases of abuse.

“It is insufficient to talk in general terms, to say for example, repetitively, that FoRB is a key human rights priority,” she said.

“It’s insufficient to have perhaps a quiet diplomatic word when there’s an issue, without necessarily highlighting it publicly.”

She gave as an example Pakistani Christian woman Asia Bibi, who was acquitted of blasphemy and freed from death row in Pakistan after years of advocacy.

“It took campaigning. These campaigns can make a difference; engage with them. But governments need to do more as well – we underestimate the soft power of the UK even today,” she said.

Fiona is involved in preparations for an FoRB ministerial to be hosted by the UK in July 2022 that will focus on best practice and support for victims.

Turning her attention to the role of UK churches, she encouraged them to invite speakers involved in anti-persecution work as a way of helping to raise awareness.

“There is still a limited appreciation amongst churches across this country of how massive this issue is worldwide,” she said.

Christians can also ask their MP to join the APPG FoRB, she suggested: “Encourage your MP and then very courteously hold them to account to actually act.”

Fiona was one of several speakers at the FoRB event organised by the Conservative Christian Fellowship and SAT-7.

The meeting heard about the plight of persecuted Christians like Pakistani teenager Maria Shahbaz, who is in hiding with her family after escaping from a Muslim man who forced her to convert to Islam and marry him; and Leah Sharibu, another Christian teenager who was abducted from her school in Nigeria by Boko Haram and enslaved for refusing to renounce her faith.

Concerns were also raised about the estimated 2,700 Yazidi women kidnapped by ISIS who remain missing, and Uighur Muslims imprisoned in “modern day concentration camps” in China.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide founder Mervyn Thomas said Christians had a duty to speak up for all people suffering for their faith.

“The problem is huge but of course it’s not confined to Christians,” he said.

“It is so important that Christians speak up for all faiths and none around the world.

“Apart from anything else, it is what Jesus would do … and it’s also missional when we do this. We do this because we are Christian. We speak up for other faiths because that’s what Christ told us to do.

“It doesn’t dilute our Christian faith, it doesn’t make us some kind of syncretist. It makes us a true Christian actually because we are all made in the image of God and God gave us the right to choose – God gave us a free will.”

Coptic Archbishop of London, Archbishop Angaelos, said it was important to support the thriving of persecuted communities, not just their survival.

“When we look to the needs of others, our benchmark must be what we expect for ourselves. We cannot expect others to just ‘survive’ with a basic level of existence,” he said.

“This is not about mere provision or charity; it is about prosperity. It is not about protecting those we perceive to be weaker; it is about their safety. It is not just about their survival, as survival is not a privilege; it is a right.

“It is about their human dignity and their God-given image and likeness that they, and we, all share in common, and which we must stand to protect and defend.”

Life peer Lord Farmer expressed his concern about the UK, where he said “Christians can increasingly expect a soft persecution”.

He cited the controversy surrounding Worcester College, part of the University of Oxford, after it apologised for hosting a Christian training event.

“Christians in the UK have been privileged historically to live in a tolerant society where a whole range of views are acceptable but now we are operating in an increasingly illiberal public square,” he said.

“There is a form of secularism just as zealous as the Christian faith which will squash religion whenever it sees it, and wherever it sees it, while masquerading as liberty and neutrality.”

He added, “Christians must fight for the rights of both their own faith and the faith of others, else a far less tolerant society quickly takes its place.”

Source: christiantoday.com


Pope Francis Decries Abortion and Euthanasia as Treating Human Life Like ‘Waste’

The Pope added that both abortion and euthanasia “deny hope” by negating “the hope of children who bring us the life that keeps us going and the hope that is in the roots that the elderly give us.”

Pope Francis addresses participants in the plenary assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life in the Vatican’s Clementine Hall, Sept. 27, 2021.
Pope Francis addresses participants in the plenary assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life in the Vatican’s Clementine Hall, Sept. 27, 2021. (photo: Vatican Media. / Vatican Media)

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis decried abortion and euthanasia in a speech Monday in which he said that today’s “throwaway culture” leads to the killing of children and discarding of the elderly.

“There is the discarding of children that we do not want to welcome with the law of abortion that sends them to the dispatcher and kills them directly. And today this has become a ‘normal’ method, a practice that is very ugly. It is really murder,” Pope Francis said Sept. 27.

Vatican Media.

Vatican Media.

In a live-streamed address to members of the Pontifical Academy for Life, the Pope said that to understand what abortion is, it helps to pose two questions.

“Is it right to eliminate, to take a human life to solve a problem? Is it right to hire a hitman to solve a problem? That’s what abortion is,” the Pope commented.

Vatican Media.

Vatican Media.

Pope Francis said that the elderly today were also viewed as “waste material” and “of no use” in today’s throwaway culture.

“But they are wisdom. They are the roots of wisdom of our civilization, and this civilization discards them,” he said.

Vatican Media.

Vatican Media.

“Yes, in many parts there is also the law of ‘hidden euthanasia,’ as I call it. It is the one that makes people say: ‘Medications are expensive, only half of them are needed,’ and this means shortening the life of the elderly.”

The Pope added that both abortion and euthanasia “deny hope” by negating “the hope of children who bring us the life that keeps us going and the hope that is in the roots that the elderly give us.”

Vatican Media.

Vatican Media.

Pope Francis underlined that this was not a path for Catholic universities or hospitals to follow.

“This is a road on which we cannot go: the road of discarding,” he said.

The speech marked the second time this month that Pope Francis has spoken out strongly about abortion.

Vatican Media.

Vatican Media.

During a press conference on his return flight from Slovakia on Sept. 15, the Pope repeatedly said that “abortion is murder” and compared the acceptance of abortion to “accepting daily murder.”

The Pontifical Academy for Life was founded by Pope John Paul II in 1994. It is dedicated to promoting the Church’s consistent life ethic.

This week, the academy is holding its plenary assembly in Rome, focused on the pandemic, bioethics, and the future of public health.

Vatican Media.

Vatican Media.

“I entrust to the Virgin Mary the work of this assembly and also the whole of your activity as an Academy for the defense and promotion of life,” Pope Francis said in his speech in the Vatican’s Clementine Hall.

Source: ncregister.com


Pope Francis Urges Catholic Lawmakers to Protect Human Dignity Online

Speaking to the International Catholic Legislators Network, the Pope encouraged the politicians to “make every effort to undertake serious and in-depth moral reflection on the risks and possibilities associated with scientific and technological advances.”

Pope Francis greets participants in a meeting promoted by the International Catholic Legislators Network in the Vatican's Clementine Hall, Aug. 27, 2021.
Pope Francis greets participants in a meeting promoted by the International Catholic Legislators Network in the Vatican’s Clementine Hall, Aug. 27, 2021. (photo: Vatican Media. / Vatican Media)

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis urged Catholic lawmakers Friday to protect human dignity online by using public policy to combat child pornography, data breaches, and cyber attacks.

“In our age particularly, one of the greatest challenges confronting us is the administration  of technology for the common good,” Pope Francis said in the Apostolic Palace on Aug. 27.

Vatican Media.

Vatican Media.

“By means of policies and regulations, lawmakers can protect human dignity from whatever may threaten it. I think, for example, of the scourge of child pornography, the misuse of personal data, attacks on critical infrastructures such as hospitals, and the spread of false information on social media and so on,” he said.

Speaking to the International Catholic Legislators Network, the Pope encouraged the politicians to “make every effort to undertake serious and in-depth moral reflection on the risks and possibilities associated with scientific and technological advances.”

Pope Francis said that moral reflection on technology would help ensure that laws and regulations focus on “promoting integral human development rather than progress as an end in itself.”

Vatican Media.

Vatican Media.

“The wonders of modern science and technology have increased our quality of life,” he said. “At the same time, left to themselves and to market forces alone, without suitable guidelines provided by legislative assemblies and public authorities guided by a sense of social responsibility, these innovations can end up becoming a threat  to the dignity of the human person.”

The International Catholic Legislators Network is a group of Catholic parliamentarians from around the world that holds an annual private meeting in Rome.

Vatican Media.

Vatican Media.

The group, founded in 2010 by the Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schönborn and David Alton, a member of Britain’s House of Lords, is dedicated to religious liberty, Church-state relations, the protection of life, and communicating Catholic thought in secular politics.

Vatican Media.

Vatican Media.

“Your work as lawmakers and political leaders is more important than ever. Charged with serving the common good, you are now being challenged to direct your efforts to the  integral renewal of your communities and of society as a whole,” Pope Francis said.

“This entails more than simply combating the virus or seeking to return to the status quo prior to the pandemic — no, that would be a failure — it demands confronting the deeper causes that the crisis has laid bare and aggravated: poverty, social inequality, widespread unemployment, and the lack of access to education.”

Vatican Media.

Vatican Media.

Among those present at the papal audience were Christiaan Alting von Geusau, president and rector of the International Theological Institute in Vienna, Cardinal Schönborn, and Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II of the Syriac Orthodox Church.

Vatican Media.

Vatican Media.

“In an age of upheaval and political polarization, legislators and politicians in general are not always held in high esteem,” the Pope said. “Yet what loftier vocation can there be than that of serving the common good and placing the welfare of the community before our personal advantage?”

Vatican Media.

Vatican Media.

“If we are to heal our world so harshly tried by the pandemic, and build a more inclusive and sustainable future in which technology serves human needs without isolating us from one another, we need not only responsible citizens, but also capable leaders inspired by the principle of the common good,” Pope Francis said.

Source: ncregister.com


EU bishops’ commission urges action to protect religious freedom

EU bishops’ commission urges action to protect religious freedom

European Union flags flutter outside the EU headquarters in Brussels July 15, 2021. (Credit: CNS photo/Yves Herman, Reuters.)

BRUSSELS — European bishops called on the European Union to do more to protect religious freedom in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic as part of efforts to strengthen the bloc’s role as a “global humanitarian, development, economic and peace actor.”

“Vulnerable religious communities are experiencing discrimination, intolerance and, in some cases, persecution as victims of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes,” the Brussels-based Commission of Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union said in a joint statement with the non-Catholic Conference of European Churches.

“The Union needs to pay particular attention to protecting and promoting freedom of religion or belief in the world — not only as a human right, but also as a strategic dimension of democratic freedom, conflict prevention, and a way to foster social peace, justice and reconciliation,” said the commission, known as COMECE.

The statement followed a July 15 online meeting of church representatives with the EU’s new Slovenian presidency, which took office July 1.

It said the EU should update its 2013 Guidelines on Religious Freedom, while “putting in place a mechanism” to reinforce them globally in line with “a new European strategic culture of peace.”

“Together, we represent the membership of around 380 million EU citizens, and we are strongly committed to develop the European project on the basis of the Christian ideals of justice, peace and the integrity of creation,” the statement added.

Church leaders repeatedly have called on the EU to link protection of religious rights to its aid and trade packages amid reports of worsening violations across the world.

In May, a new EU religious freedom envoy was appointed, two years after the post was allowed to lapse following the resignation of Jan Figel of Slovakia.

COMECE said it also wanted to see religious freedom fully restored within the EU itself in the wake of forced church closures despite a current resurgence in coronavirus cases.

It added that religious freedom remained “a matter for national authorities” in the 27 member-states, but was also affected by EU policies, which should now focus on “re-expanding freedom of worship to pre-pandemic standards.”

“Freedom of religion or belief needs to be promoted and protected in our European societies — we encourage the EU presidency to look at EU initiatives through this lens,” the commission said.

“Reopening policies should take into account the situation and needs of churches, both as actors that can facilitate recovery through their social actions, and as actors in need of recovery support.”

The statement said a “resilient and healthy Europe” should show greater concern for “hidden vulnerabilities” in EU societies, as well as ensuring a just distribution of vaccines.

Source: cruxnow.com


48 Christian Churches in Canada Have Been Burned Down or Vandalized as Persecution Continues

Video footage shows a woman attempting to light a Canadian church on fire days before the church burned to the ground.

Surrey Royal Canadian Mounted Police said in a press release that St. George Coptic Orthodox Church was destroyed in an early Monday morning fire, the cause of which is still under investigation. The fire is being treated as “suspicious,” particularly in light of video surveillance footage obtained by CTV Vancouvershowing a woman attempting to light the church on fire last Wednesday.

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Authorities have not established that the incidents are connected. Sergeant Elenore Sturko told the Daily Caller News Foundation Tuesday that the suspect in the July 14 video, described as a “Caucasian woman, 5’7 tall, with a heavy-set build, and dark hair,” has not yet been identified.

The church, attended by more than 380 families, also served as a daycare to 65 children, CTV reported.

“We will not be deterred and we will rebuild,” said Bishop Mina of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Mississauga, Vancouver and Western Canada, the Vancouver Sun reported.

“The timing of this fire … raises many questions about what the authorities did to protect our church, especially considering the attempt on the same church this past Wednesday,” he added, according to the Vancouver Sun.

The Royal Mounted Canadian Police told the DCNF Tuesday that though it is investigating the crimes against churches, it does not have statistics on how many churches have been vandalized or burned.

“The RCMP is tracking/investigating these crimes where we are the police of jurisdiction. We don’t have a mandate to collect/track statistics for crimes investigated by other police departments,” RCMP spokesperson Robin Percival told the DCNF.

At least 48 Christian churches in Canada have either been vandalized, desecrated, or burned down since unmarked graves were uncovered near residential schools for indigenous children, according to one estimate by the Canadian publication True North.

The New York Post’s Kelly Jane Torrence criticized media outlets for suggesting Canada had hidden “genocidal death camps.”

Torrence wrote the unmarked graves are “confirmations” of a sad history Canadians have always known, rather than “discoveries.”

Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation report, released in 2015, found that thousands of children died from disease in the overcrowded schools and that lack of supervision allowed for abuse and neglect.

“This is not a mass gravesite,” Saskatchewan First Nation Chief Cadmus Delorm said June 24, regarding burials found near a former Indian residential school. “These are unmarked graves.”

“The finds were shocking but not surprising,” wrote Torrence. “As a schoolgirl in Canada, I learned the ugly history of the country’s forced assimilation policy. Over the course of a century, 150,000 native children were torn from their families — by force, if necessary — and sent to get an English- (or French-) language education in government-funded schools run mainly by the Catholic Church.”

Torrence wrote that most of the clergy in charge were “well-meaning,” but that some “took advantage of their positions to inflict abuse.”

“The idea was to turn poverty-stricken children into productive, even prosperous, members of mainstream Canadian society — and, from the church’s perspective, to save their souls,” she added. “Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission concluded in 2015 that at least 3,200 students died, later revising that figure to 4,100. The No. 1 cause of death was tuberculosis; influenza hit hard, too. Far from home, children were often buried on site, their graves marked with wooden crosses, most of which deteriorated and disappeared.”

LifeNews Note: Mary Margaret Olohan writes for Daily Caller. Content created by The Daily Caller News Foundation is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a large audience.

Source: lifenews.com


How the Irish, and Many Others, Lost Their Religious Freedom to COVID Restrictions

A visitor prays during mass at a Roman Catholic church in Knock, Ireland, in 2010. (Cathal McNaughton/Reuters)
Around the world, religious institutions bore the brunt of coronavirus rules. We can’t let this happen again.

In Ireland, you can face six months behind bars for forging a drug prescription. Or for stealing€20,000 from your employer for luxury holidays. Or, until recently, for attending church.

Even in a year that has turned societal norms on its head, it’s surely a surprise that the Emerald Isle, once a home away from Rome for Europe’s Catholics, got into this state. There are few places more steeped in Church tradition.

Ireland, of all places, enforced some of the most draconian restrictions on religious freedom in the world during the pandemic. Authorities didn’t just close places of worship; they criminalized anyone who would attend a service or a Mass, regardless of their willingness to mask and distance. When a rural priest from County Cavan tried to hold a service, police set up checkpoints surrounding the building and fined him for daring to bid parishioners to come to a large, airy church. Meanwhile, dry cleaners, supermarkets, and even liquor stores stayed open for business. It was considered safer to pick up a cheap merlot outside a corner off-license than to take bread and wine in a socially distanced Communion service with holy God.

 

With the internationally solidified right to worship trounced in favor of one’s right to a spruced-up suit, the Irish government’s religious illiteracy in the context of fundamental freedoms has been exposed. And it’s a far-reaching problem across the global West. In Nevada, citizens were left with no choice but to render unto Caesars Palace when casinos stayed open, but churches had to close. Meanwhile, a young doctor serving on a COVID ward became the “David” of Switzerland in May, taking a slingshot to the sweeping, Goliathan ban by getting the Constitutional Chamber of Geneva to recognize it as unnecessary and disproportionate. They could hardly decide otherwise. Professional choirs were allowed to meet for practice, and demonstrations could take place. Why were Christians ever considered more contagious?

Indeed, millions of others across the Continent were affected by severe worship restrictions at some point during the pandemic. For a society built on Judeo-Christian values, it’s been a stark revelation of how little we think of our foundations. Somebody check on Nietzsche — he might be getting his mourning clothes out again to proclaim that God is dead.

Undeniably, churches play an immensely important role in society. At a time of loss and grieving, who can question the benefit of accessing a transcendent touch-point — a place to find hope and comfort amid despair? But the significance of religious freedom in the midst of a global crisis goes beyond even spiritual welfare. It’s a test of which human rights the government truly values under pressure and which it doesn’t. The right to worship is a deeply personal one. When that right is lost and discarded, it puts the very premise of all human-rights protections at risk. And if, in the global shake-up, respect for religious freedom is proven to be nothing more than a cathedral built on sand, it’s not going to be respected tomorrow either.

If you’re hearing a faint solo over the Irish Sea, it might be a “hallelujah” — after almost 12 months of criminalization, churches reopened recently, albeit at a limited capacity. It’s good news for many. However, the Irish government has never acknowledged that the blanket ban was ever wrong. The next time an emergency hits, it will be back to police squadrons and church raids in another bizarre blend of Exodus meets World War Z. And so a Galway businessman, Declan Ganley, has taken up the challenge of persuading the courts of Ireland to join those in Scotland, Switzerland, Chile, and several U.S. states in striking down the disproportionate ban once and for all.

Christians across the country are voicing their support for the principle. Hundreds have already signed an open petition to the government asking for a commitment that the ban will never be imposed again. Court dithering and delaying has left the situation somewhat unclear. But even though the churches can now open, the courts still have an opportunity to tackle the much deeper issue: Is religious freedom really worth protecting? Did the government indeed violate that fundamental right? And do we need to do better to make sure that the rights of religious groups aren’t left vulnerable in the next global emergency?

Source: nationalreview.com


Austria’s Catholic Bishops: Provide ‘Assistance to Live,’ Not Assistance to Suicide

In their message, the Austrian bishops said: “We know from countless encounters with the dying that the last phase of life, in particular, can be a blessing. In many cases, important encounters and moments of reconciliation are still possible.”

Assisted suicide is currently punishable by up to five years in prison.
Assisted suicide is currently punishable by up to five years in prison. (photo: Patrick Thomas / Shutterstock)

VIENNA, Austria — Austria’s Catholic bishops urged the authorities on Tuesday to offer people “assistance to live,” rather than assistance to suicide.

The bishops issued a statement June 1 in the wake of a ruling by the country’s top court that assisted suicide should no longer be a criminal offense.

“Dying is a part of life, but not killing. Assisted suicide must therefore never be understood as a medical service or otherwise a service of a healthcare profession,” the bishops wrote in the five-page message marking the Austrian Church’s Day for Life.

The constitutional court argued in its Dec. 11 judgment that the country’s criminal code is unconstitutional because its ban on assisted suicide violates the right to self-determination. It ordered the government to lift the ban in 2021.

Assisted suicide is currently punishable by up to five years in prison.

At the time of the ruling, Archbishop Franz Lackner, the president of Austria’s Catholic bishops’ conference, said that the judgment marked a fundamental “cultural breach.”

CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner, reported that the bishops urged legislators on Tuesday to take a number of steps to safeguard citizens, including expanding suicide prevention efforts, limiting the possibility of pressure from third parties, and guaranteeing conscientious objection.

“The limits of self-determination become apparent in life crises, in the event of a serious experience of suffering or in the face of a death that is becoming tangible,” the bishops wrote.

“It is an illusion to believe that we can determine ourselves completely and independently at any moment. As the constitutional court also admits, experience teaches us different things: We need each other! Man is a social being, always dependent and receptive to the expectations and valuations of the people around him.”

Austria is a country of almost nine million people bordered by the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Italy, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, and Germany.

In September 2020, the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation reaffirmed the Church’s perennial teaching on the sinfulness of euthanasia and assisted suicide.

Since then, supporters of the practices have made gains in several European countries.

In February, Portugal’s parliament backed a bill approving euthanasia. But President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa vetoed the bill.

Also in February, Catholic leaders and human rights advocates expressed concernover a bill seeking to legalize physician-assisted suicide in Ireland.

In the same month, Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court ruled that a provision in the German Criminal Code criminalizing commercial assisted suicide is unconstitutional.

In March, Spain’s legislature passed a law legalizing euthanasia and assisted suicide, making Spain the fourth country in Europe to legalize the practice, after the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg.

Meanwhile, a peer in the House of Lords, the U.K. parliament’s second chamber, recently put forward a proposal to revisit the legalization of assisted suicide.

In their message, the Austrian bishops said: “We know from countless encounters with the dying that the last phase of life, in particular, can be a blessing. In many cases, important encounters and moments of reconciliation are still possible.”

“In addition, a widely publicized option to commit suicide puts pressure on all those who face life until natural death and are dependent on the help of others to do so.”

The bishops added, “According to the dangerous logic of euthanasia, they too would have the possibility to end their lives ‘autonomously.’”

Source: ncregister.com


Irish people of faith call for government commitment to religious freedom

DUBLIN (7 May 2021) – People of faith are signing an open letter, addressed to the Irish Prime Minister, Micheál Martin TD, demanding a commitment never to ban church worship in Ireland again.

Church doors will open once again on Monday, after public worship was forbidden for almost a full year, with criminal penalties imposed on those who left their homes to attend services and masses. Despite commercial public venues such as dry cleaners and off-licenses being allowed to open with safety measures in place, worship in church was strictly prohibited.

The open letter, backed by human rights group ADF International, is available to read and sign at www.letusworship.global/ireland.

“There is no clear reason as to why the Irish government prevented places of worship from opening for so long. Other European countries allowed religious worship to continue with safety precautions which protect both the public at religious services and the wider community,” said Lorcán Price, Irish barrister and Legal Counsel for ADF International.

The letter, launched this week, makes three concrete asks of the leader of the Irish government.

First, the letter asks that the Taoiseach affirm respect for the fundamental right to freedom of religion, which is enshrined in Article 44 of the Constitution and protected in international human rights law.

Second, it demands that he recognize that churches are an essential part of society, and finally, that he commits that his government will never again impose a blanket ban on public worship.

“In Scotland, we saw the same disproportionate measures struck down by the top civil court as “unlawful”. Religious freedom is a fundamental human right, protected by the Irish Constitution, and it’s vital that the Irish government recognise this. Irish people of faith were deprived of worship, of the sacraments, and of the hope that the church can offer at a time when they were most needed – at a time of crisis. The Irish government must show that it understands that communal worship is essential for many Irish people, and commit to never again imposing such a draconian ban,” continued Price.

Legal challenge to blanket worship ban pending before courts

Declan Ganley, who filed a legal challenge after seeing the impact on all faith communities, is redoubling his efforts to ensure that the blanket ban on worship will never be imposed again and to hold the government to account.

The businessman’s claim for a judicial review into the disproportionate ban mirrors that of Canon Tom White in Scotland. In March, the Glasgow priest joined with 27 other faith leaders to successfully have the Scottish government’s blanket ban on worship ruled unlawful and struck down.

Ganley is hopeful for a similar decision from the Irish court.

“I welcome the steps that the government is taking to reopen churches. However, this does not reverse the fact that for most of the past year, churches have been subjected to unfair treatment in comparison to places of commerce,” said Ganley, in response to the news that the government would allow services to resume this weekend.

“There is no clear explanation as to why the Irish people should have been deprived of an essential source of comfort and hope in such a time of national grief. There’s no clear logic as to why an airy, open church, with plenty of space, should be considered somehow more dangerous than a bicycle shop. Are people of faith really more contagious than others?” he continued.

“We know from the case of Canon Tom White in Scotland that the decision to completely ban public worship is an unlawful one. While I am very thankful that church doors will once again open in Ireland, this case remains important. Now more than ever, we need a clear decision from the court as to whether this draconian ban was ever justified in the first place. And it is also a critical moment for the future of faith in Ireland. The courts now have the opportunity to ensure that the community is never again deprived access to a place to meet with God and minister to the suffering at a time of need.”

Source: adfinternational.org