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Free speech back on trial in Finland


WORLD Radio - Free speech back on trial in Finland

A member of Finland’s parliament continues to fight the state for her right to speak her beliefs about sexuality and marriage

Päivi Räsänen arrives at the Helsinki District Court in Helsinki, Finland on January 24, 2022. Getty Images/Photo by ANTTI AIMO-KOIVISTO/Lehtikuva/AFP

NICK EICHER, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: free speech in Finland.

Last week on Culture Friday, we talked about a member of Finland’s parliament who was taken to court by the state in 2019. Why?

Because she dared to call homosexuality sinful according to biblical standards.

Back in 2004, Päivi Räsänen co-authored a church pamphlet about the legal and ethical concerns of mainstreaming homosexuality.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Fifteen years later in 2019, she tweeted her concern about the Lutheran church celebrating Pride month. Her post included a picture of her Bible open to verses in Romans 1 that say one of the consequences of turning from God is embracing homosexuality. And six months later in December, she spoke out about her concerns with talk show host Ruben Stiller.

PÄIVI RÄSÄNEN: [Speaking in Finnish]
ENGLISH TRANSLATION: Yes, in my opinion, it is quite clear that God did not originally create man as a homosexual. He created them heterosexual. He created man and woman and intended marriage between the two and clearly it was against God's will and a sin if we are in some other sexuality.

EICHER: For saying this, she was investigated and interrogated by police, and then charged with criminal hate speech.

Last Spring, the Helsinki District court tried her case and dismissed all four charges.

But the state appealed, and Räsänen had to go back to court just a couple weeks ago.

So now she waits, again.

Here’s Räsänen talking with Alliance Defending Freedom International.

RÄSÄNEN: If I win the case, I think that it is a very important step for the freedom of speech and religion…If I'm convicted, I think that the worst consequence is not a fine to me or even the prison, it would be the censorship…because then the freedom of speech, freedom of religion, it is, it is narrowed.

REICHARD: So what’s going on in this case?

Here to talk about it is Evert van Vlastuin. He’s a journalist and Managing Editor of CNE news and joins us from the Netherlands. Good morning, Evert!

VLASTUIN: Good morning.

REICHARD: Let’s get some context here…Päivi Räsänen’s beliefs aren’t some new radical right-wing theory. They are tenets of the faith that gave Europe its moral framework for over a thousand years. If anything, it’s the world around Räsänen that’s changed. How quickly has Finland in particular shifted on issues of sexuality?

VLASTUIN: I think that, much like the other Western European countries in the period after the Second World War, we have had the so-called Sexual Revolution in the 60s. And we are in a sort of transition era, if it comes to the legality of all this. And on that transition ground, we find Mrs. Räsänen. With her court case, it has to do with non discrimination, on the one hand, non discrimination of homosexuals and on the other hand, the faithfulness to the old ethics of Christianity.

EICHER: Finland’s government brought charges against Räsänen of “agitation against a minority” under something called the Finnish Criminal Code’s laws against War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity. How does the state justify applying laws like that to Räsänen’s case?

VLASTUIN: Well, war crimes and crimes against humanity. But the hate speech law was developed after 9/11 in the era of so to say, anti-terror legislation. And my idea is that at the time, the idea was that hate speech is sort of a security threat. And in that light, seeing the things that Räsänen has said, is the threat of the Finnish security, which is a quite peculiar idea, but this is how it is.

REICHARD: Alliance Defending Freedom International counseled Räsänen’s lawyer . What defense did they advise?

VLASTUIN: The basic defense is quite simple, that Räsänen has the right for her religion and her religious beliefs about sexual ethics. And she has the right to free speech. And she has said nothing to insult sexual minorities or other groups. And that's basically her, her defense and her Finnish lawyer has voiced that as well.

REICHARD: In the U.S., we are realizing the growing cost of affirming Biblical truths about human sexuality…but I think we might miss how the connection between church and state in countries like Finland matters. What’s the difference, and why does it matter in cases like this?

VLASTUIN: Well, America is a place where there is separation between church and state, and America might be very church-going but the state does not have influence on the church, not direct influence. That's different in Finland. The church in Finland is still officially a state church. It is a national church, a People's Church, of which 70%. So 70% of the people is a member of, so the overall majority is connected to the Lutheran church and Finland and is baptized. But state churches are usually more influenced by the state than that the state is influenced by the church. So the Lutheran Church in Finland is very politically correct, is not the type of a counter cultural or critical influence. It is very much on the contrary, that it is the voice of the society and voice of politics. So in that sense, Räsänen is not voicing the idea of the church in terms of sexual ethics. It is the other way around, that Räsänen actually is speaking against the church.

EICHER: Do you have a sense of how the public leans in this case?

VLASTUIN: Well, this is very difficult to say. It is clear that both sides, there's strong support for. Finland is, is a country where there's room for homosexuality and gay marriage and things like that. On the other hand, there have been demonstrations for Räsänen. And they were stronger than demonstrations for the for the state and the prosecutor. So it's very difficult to say, but it is clear that Räsänen does have support and sees a Member of Parliament as she was reelected earlier this year in her seat as well. So she is not without support. No, not at all.

REICHARD: Evert van Vlastuin is Managing Editor of CNE news, and he lives in the Netherlands. Thank you!

VLASTUIN: It's a pleasure. Thank you very much.

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