Women and Justice: Keywords

Domestic Case Law

KKO 2010:74 Supreme Court of Finland (2010)

Gender discrimination

The issue here was whether the crime of discrimination, as set forth in Section 9 (currently Section 11) of Chapter 11 of the Finnish Criminal Code (39/1889, as amended) (the “Criminal Code”), could be committed in connection with the practice of religion by way of a refusal to participate in public worship with a female priest. In the case, A, a male priest and a member of a traditionalist evangelist association that was against women serving as pastors, was invited by B, the chairman of the local chapter of this association, to preach at a parish church. C, a female priest, had been scheduled to participate in the worship by assisting in the communion. Prior to the commencement of the worship, A and B had announced to C that, because of their conviction, C could not join A in the worship, after which C had left the church. In its ruling, the Supreme Court noted that Section 11 of the Finnish Constitution (731/1999, as amended) sets forth that everyone has the right to freedom of religion and conscience. The Court, however, clarified that this right is not absolute and that one cannot plead this right to justify actions that violate human dignity or other basic human rights or that are against the principles of the Finnish legal system. The Court further noted that, under the Finnish fundamental rights system, the prevention of discrimination can justify limiting the rights of the autonomous authority of religious organizations and their right to determine the methods of practicing religion. The same reason, prevention of discrimination, is also a justifiable reason to limit the rights of an individual in connection with the practice of religion. On this basis, the Court held that the elements of the crime of discrimination are generally applicable and do not exclude discrimination based on gender or discrimination that takes place within a parish in connection with the practice of religion. The Court also found that the elements of the crime, including a person having, without a justified reason, in the arrangement of a public function placed someone in a clearly unequal or otherwise essentially inferior position owing to his or her gender, were present in the case. Therefore, A was sentenced to pay 20 days-fine. While it found B also guilty, due to B’s level of guilt being determined to be lower than that of A as well as because of certain mitigating circumstances, the Court decided to waive the punishment of B.