The Chancellor of Justice has condemned Foreign Minister Timo Soini for his decision to participate in an anti-abortion procession while on an official visit to Canada in May this year.
In delivering a ruling on a complaint over the foreign minister's actions, the Chancellor of Justice said that Soini should have exercised restraint and judgment to avoid misunderstandings or doubt over the difference between his positions and those of Finland.
"There must be a clear distinction with respect to positions. Are they stated as a representative of the state or as a member of parliament or as a private individual?" noted Chancellor Tuomas Pöysti.
Chancellor: Soini's actions not unlawful
However the Chancellor said that Soini did not violate any laws when he engaged in the actions that formed the subject of the complaint.
Soini has come under scrutiny for participating in an anti-abortion candlelight vigil in Canada, for lamenting a pro-abortion vote in Ireland and for congratulating Argentine lawmakers for shutting down a motion to legalise abortion.
The Chancellor said that it was fundamentally problematic that a member of the prime minister's cabinet and a foreign minister in particular with the mandate to present Finland's foreign policy positions should adopt an anti-abortion rights stance during an official visit, even if it were on his free time.
According to Pöysti, Soini's actions contributed to the possibility of misconceptions and created a risk that the views expressed during an official trip to any country were Finland's official position or policy.
Soini: I was there on my own time
In a response to the Chancellor, Soini stressed that he participated in an evening event organised in a Catholic church on his own time. He wrote that there was no reason to limit his rights.
"Participation in the candlelight vigil in memory of the victims of abortion was an expression of my sincere and genuine religious beliefs and my faith, which both enjoy the protection of the freedom of thought, conscience and religion," Soini wrote.
Soini said he believes that neither the state nor the European Court of Human Rights has the right to weigh the validity of religious claims or to question the validity or relative merit of interpretations of conviction or devotion.
"Respect for human life is an essential part of the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church and as a Catholic Christian I practiced my faith with others participating in the candlelight vigil," he added in his response.
Soini: No need for sanctions
The minister pointed out that executing his duties as foreign minister did not prevent him from enjoying his fundamental rights.
He added that freedom of thought, conscience and religion are circumscribed by international and European law only in certain special circumstances, and are not relevant in his case.
"As such, I have acted in accordance with my rights and there is no legitimate basis for limiting my rights that would warrant sanctions against me, which in itself would mean an infringement of my rights," Soini said in his letter.