A Protest in Defense of Conscience

The principal author of the United States Constitution was James Madison. He also became America’s fourth president.

At the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, there was no single delegate more widely read or learned in the specific area of conscience rights and religious liberty. Protecting those rights — which come from God and not from government — was one of the greatest achievements in all of human history.  Madison’s was a capacious mind and a fluid pen.

He famously wrote “Conscience is the most sacred of all property.”  The use of the word “sacred” in that sentence is not a coincidence. Madison meant that if our conscience is not free, then we are not free.  Our religious liberties are consonant:  if any government does not earnestly protect its citizens’ freedom of religion, then it is not presiding over a government of liberty. Soft tyrannies always creep in on cat’s paws, incrementally. 

The non-negotiable right of conscience is a universal principal, and as true in the United States as it is in Finland whose prosecutor general has charged Reverend Dr. Juhana Pohjola with incitement against a group of people.  Pohjola is the diocesan dean and bishop-elect of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland.

His alleged violation?  He authored a 2004 booklet that explains Christian teaching on human sexuality.  Pohjola is an orthodox Christian which means he adheres to the traditional teaching of the Bible on these matters.  Finland’s own historic churches have taught the same for centuries.

In addition to Pohjola, the zealous prosecutor general has also brought charges against Dr. Paivi Rasanen, a member of the Finnish parliament, who authored a booklet on human sexuality reflecting biblical teaching.

Prosecuting religious and civic leaders for explaining and advocating scriptural views is now cause for crushing and smothering dissent for what some members of government consider to be unacceptable views in the public square.

Given the Soviet Union’s repeated attacks on the people of Finland’s consciences during the Cold War, one would think the country would be a forum for the welcome and robust debate over the issues that matter most regarding faith and religion. They were brutally and routinely suppressed in Finland during the Soviet era. 

Alas, how quickly memory fades and recedes, and now quickly the candle of liberty and conscience can be snuffed by an errant prosecutor.  Redolent of the Soviet era, Finland is now on the wrong side of history.

On Saturday in Washington, men and women of faith turned out to protest at Finland’s Embassy in Washington. How ironic that the Finnish embassy’s next door neighbor is the Vatican’s Washington Embassy while just around the corner and up the street is the most important Eastern Orthodox parish in our nation’s capital.  Both teach expressly what Finland’s prosecutor general is trying to crush, punish, and erase.

Several passers-by on busy Embassy Row in Washington blared their horns in support of protestors favoring religious liberty and conscience protections. 

Perhaps the ring-tone of one of those horns will wend its way across the Atlantic and the European continent, signaling to Finland that it ought to robustly revisit the permanent things —  the first of which is conscience rights, free and unbound — before it takes a turn toward soft authoritarianism in the public square.

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