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Finnish politician awaits second verdict in religious freedom case

Päivi Räsänen faces criminal charges for statements on Biblical sexuality

MP Päivi Räsänen and her husband Niilo Räsänen at the Helsinki District Court in Helsinki, Finland, January 24, 2022 Getty Images/Photo by ANTTI AIMO-KOIVISTO/Lehtikuva/AFP

Finnish politician awaits second verdict in religious freedom case

When Finnish politician Päivi Räsänen learned that the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland was partnering with a local LGBTQ Pride event in 2019, she tweeted a picture of Romans 1:24-27 on the platform X, formerly known as Twitter. She wanted to encourage people to trust and look to the Bible.

After a citizen made a criminal complaint, authorities informed Räsänen that she was under investigation for the tweet, setting off a yearslong legal battle. “Finland … has a good reputation in rule of law, so it was unbelievable and crazy that this kind of process has been possible,” she said.

Despite a 2022 district court ruling unanimously dismissing the charges against her, Räsänen is again waiting for a court verdict after a two-day trial that began Aug. 31 in the Helsinki Court of Appeal. Unlike in the United States, Finnish law gives its citizens no protection from double jeopardy, or continued prosecution for the same charges even after being acquitted.

In April 2021, Finland’s then-Prosecutor General Raija Toiviainen charged Räsänen—a medical doctor, longtime member of Parliament, former interior minister, and grandmother—with “agitation against a minority,” categorized as hate speech under the Finnish Criminal Code titled “War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity.”

In addition to Räsänen’s tweet, prosecutors targeted remarks she made on a nationally syndicated Finnish public radio program and a 23-page booklet she released in 2004 titled, “Male and Female He Created Them.”

After being interrogated by police three times for a total of 13 hours and standing trial twice in four years, the “long process is like a punishment in itself,” Räsänen said. “It is like a warning sign to other people [of] what can happen if you use your freedoms, if you speak freely and express your convictions.”

Also charged was Bishop Juhana Pohjola, who published Räsänen’s booklet through the Luther Foundation Finland, a ministry arm of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland. Both face a maximum sentence of two years imprisonment.

Prosecutor Anu Mantila argued that Räsänen and Pohjola’s remarks are “derogatory towards homosexuals,” reported Christian Network Europe News.

“Condemning homosexual acts condemns homosexuals as human beings,” Mantila said. “Citing the Bible is not forbidden. But insulting vulnerable groups is.”

Lorcán Price, legal counsel of Alliance Defending Freedom International, said the prosecution claims Räsänen and Pohjola’s remarks are motivated by discriminatory and hateful speech. As such, their speech is not protected by freedom of expression.

But Price said that Räsänen and Pohjola’s statements express an action they disagree with, not a minority they hate. ADF International says they are also protected under both the European Convention of Human Rights Articles 9 and 10, which protect freedom of religion and expression.

“This case … raises a very key issue about can Christians be salt and light in the world without suffering the penalty of the criminal law? Can we share the gospel which contains messages in it that can be upsetting to people?” Price said. “Can we share that without finding ourselves at the receiving end of a criminal prosecution?”

ADF International has seen more cases like Räsänen’s across Europe, such as a street preacher who was tried for hate speech when he spoke publicly about homosexuality in the United Kingdom, Price said.

Räsänen’s case could be a landmark case in Europe, said Evert van Vlastuin, journalist and managing editor of Christian Network Europe News.

Other countries have laws similar to Finland’s. While the results won’t have automatic and immediate ramifications, “the legal logic of such a conviction, or an acquittal … will have influence on other lawyers in other countries,” Vlastuin said. He added officials will refer to these results for how to handle future similar cases.

Additionally, if Räsänen is acquitted, Vlastuin said it’s possible the prosecution could continue to pursue the case and appeal to higher courts, such as the Supreme Court of Finland.

Prior to the trial, 16 U.S. lawmakers sent a letter to U.S. Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom Rashad Hussain and to U.S. Ambassador to Finland Douglas Hickey in support of Räsänen and Pohjola. “No American, no Finn, and no human should face legal harassment for simply living out their religious beliefs,” they wrote.

The court is expected to announce its verdict by Nov. 30. Räsänen feels confident the court will acquit her of all charges. She said that thousands of people have told her they are praying for her. She has also heard stories of some professing faith in Jesus Christ while watching the trial.

“This has also been a big chance and even a privilege for me to have so many chances in media, in Finnish society to speak openly about Christian values,” Räsänen said. “The issue is not only about marriage or sexual relations but it is also about attacks on the Bible and about salvation—and as a Christian I am happy I can testify about Jesus.”

Liz Lykins

Liz is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute.

These summarize the news that I could never assemble or discover by myself. —Keith

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