Friday, December 7, 2007
Court fines Lutheran pastors for job discrimination against woman colleague
A religious conviction does not justify discrimination against a female colleague in the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church, according to Hyvinkää District Court. The court imposed fines on two male pastors, Tauno Tuominen, who served as acting vicar at the Lutheran parish at Hyvinkää, and Ari Norro, a visiting pastor, on Friday. The conviction was for gender discrimination against a woman pastor, Petra Pohjanraito, in March this year. Also fined was a member of the parish's church council.
The case revolves around an incident in which Norro, a member of the Lutheran Evangelical Association in Finland (LEAF), had been invited to preach as a guest on the Sunday in question. Shortly before the service, he declared that his conscience would not allow him to 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 nobody came to the defence of Pohjanraito, and that she was left with no choice but to leave.
The visiting preacher was convicted of discrimination. Norro was sentenced to pay 20 income-linked day fines, and the chair of the local organisation of LEAF was sentenced to 15 day fines. In his defence, Norro appealed to 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.
Tuominen was also sentenced to 20 day fines for job discrimination and neglecting his official duties, because he did not step in on behalf of Pohjanraito.
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.The court also recognised as a mitigating factor the fact that Tuominen had a very short time to make a decision in the situation.
Norro said after the decision that he would appeal the case to the Court of Appeals.