Finnish politician wins second trial in religious freedom case
Päivi Räsänen again found not guilty of “hate speech” for a Biblical tweet
A year after a lower court ruled to dismiss charges against Finnish politician Päivi Räsänen, one of the country’s highest courts on Tuesday unanimously declared her not guilty of hate speech.
Räsänen, a longtime member of Parliament and former interior minister, was charged in 2021 by Finland’s then-Prosecutor General Raija Toiviainen with “agitation against a minority,” categorized as hate speech under the Finnish Criminal Code titled “War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity.”
In 2022, a district court ruled unanimously to dismiss the charges against Räsänen. Despite this, the prosecutor general appealed to the Helsinki Court of Appeal for another trial, which also unanimously acquitted Räsänen and dismissed all charges against her. The prosecution could still appeal to the Supreme Court of Finland.
The charges against Räsänen stemmed from a picture of Romans 1:24-27 she shared on X, formerly known as Twitter, after learning the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland was partnering with a local LGBTQ Pride event in 2019. She said she hoped her post would encourage people to look to and trust the Bible.
A citizen made a criminal complaint about the tweet, and authorities informed Räsänen that she was under investigation, setting off a yearslong legal battle.
During a Tuesday press conference after the ruling, Räsänen said she was overjoyed and relieved to learn the results, immediately sharing the news with her husband and family.
“No one should be punished for peacefully expressing their beliefs, and we are grateful that the court has upheld this core freedom,” she said. “In a free society, faith is not meant to be kept hidden behind closed doors, and this is what happens in dictatorships, not democracies.”
Räsänen and attorneys from Alliance Defending Freedom International, which represented her, explained that her tweet was speech protected by the European Convention on Human Rights Articles 9 and 10, which protect freedom of religion and expression.
Across Europe, supporters of Räsänen expressed gratitude for the results. “Glory to God! Brave Paivi Rasanen has been vindicated!” author Rod Dreher, an American expatriate living in Hungary tweeted. “Common sense prevailed,” U.K. Anglican pastor and WORLD Opinions commentator Calvin Robinson wrote.
Räsänen said she never would have expected to be on trial for expressing Christian beliefs back when she was first elected to parliament in 1995. But despite facing untrue accusations, multiple police interrogations, and two trials, she said the legal battle has been worthwhile because it’s given her a chance to profess her faith to a global audience. While at the press conference, Räsänen received an email from a 16-year-old girl who said that the trial encouraged her to be open about her Christian faith at school.
In addition to Räsänen’s tweet, prosecutors targeted remarks she made on a nationally syndicated Finnish public radio program and in a 23-page booklet she released in 2004 titled, “Male and Female He Created Them.”
Bishop Juhana Pohjola, who published Räsänen’s booklet through the Luther Foundation Finland, a ministry arm of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, was also charged in the trial. He has been acquitted
Pohjola joked that, when he told his family and church of his acquittal, “they were happy that their bishop was not a criminal.”
The trial was hard on both Pohjola and his congregation, he said. He worried that if he was found guilty, his church would be labeled as hateful. Despite this, he said the trial encouraged church members to be more open about expressing their Christian beliefs.
“For me, this case has not only been a cultural or legal battle, but also a spiritual battle,” Pohjola said in the news conference.
While the legal battle has lasted for more than four years, it might not be over yet, said Matti Sankamo, a lawyer for ADF International.
Prosecutor Anu Mantila told Finnish broadcaster Yle that she is “seriously considering” appealing the decision to the Supreme Court of Finland. She has until Jan. 15 to make an appeal, Christian Network Europe reported.
Even if Mantila does appeal, on average the court only accepts 6 percent of submitted cases, Sankamo told reporters. He added that the justices are more likely to accept this case because of its publicity and a few lingering legal questions regarding the relation between criminal issues and religious texts.
For now, Räsänen said she is grateful for the win and for all who have supported her.
“I believe that the whole process has been in God’s hands and we don’t [get] to know if this continues or not,” she said. “I’m ready to fight for these freedoms so far as it is needed.”
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