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A Finnish district court prosecutor recently charged a member of the Finland state church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland (ELCF), with criminal discrimination for refusing to work with a female pastor. Two other church leaders have also been charged for not interfering to prevent the alleged violation.

"The government has nothing to do with religion and wants to stay out of the discussion," said Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, who was president at IsoKirja College in Finland. "This case has nothing to do with religion; it has everything to do with a perceived lack of equality."

The case could set a precedent for similar cases concerning discrimination against homosexuals. The ELCF is still discussing whether homosexual pastors can serve in the church and whether pastors may bless homosexual couples.

Finland's laws prohibit any discrimination either in the workplace or in public based on race, language, age, family ties, health, religion, political orientation, work, sexual orientation, or gender. This is the first time that an ELCF controversy has involved state law enforcement. The case will be taken to trial November 16.

Ari Norro was scheduled to preach at a Sunday morning communion service in southern Finland last March. He is a preacher from the Lutheran Evangelical Association in Finland (LEAF), a group within the ELCF but believes that the Bible prohibits women from serving as pastors.

Norro said that churches generally arrange the pastoral shifts to avoid conflicts with a visiting pastor who does not want to conduct a worship service with a woman. But 15 minutes before the service was scheduled to begin, Petra Pohjanraito appeared.

"We were totally embarrassed by her arrival, for we understood very well that ...

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Pastor Charged with Criminal Discrimination
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November 2007

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