A Finnish lawmaker and a bishop were acquitted Wednesday of hate speech charges stemming from faith-based statements they had made.
Päivi Räsänen, a 62-year-old physician who has served in the Finnish parliament since 1995, and Juhana Pohjola, Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, faced the charges on account of a pamphlet teaching that homosexual behavior is contrary to Christian morality.
A Helsinki district court unanimously dismissed the charges, saying it is not for it to interpret biblical concepts. The court ordered the prosecution to pay more than 60,000 euros in legal costs and gave it seven days to appeal the ruling.
Räsänen, former Minister of the Interior, had been charged with “hate speech” for sharing her faith-based views on marriage and sexual ethics in a 2019 tweet, a 2019 radio debate, and a 2004 pamphlet. Bishop Pohjola faced charges for publishing Räsänen’s pamphlet for his congregation over 17 years ago.
In a 2019 tweet, Räsänen questioned why the leadership of the Finnish Lutheran church, of which she is an active member, sponsored an LGBT event, “Pride 2019.” The social media post included verses from the Bible that condemned homosexual acts as sinful. The tweet led to investigations against Räsänen, which uncovered a church pamphlet she had written almost 20 years ago.
In April 2021, Finland’s Prosecutor General brought three criminal charges against Räsänen, who was chairwoman of the Christian Democrats from 2004 to 2015 and Minister of the Interior from 2011-2015. Two of the three charges Räsänen faced came after the police made strong recommendations not to continue the prosecution. Räsänen’s statements also did not violate the policies of Twitter or the national broadcaster, which is why they remained freely available on their platforms.
The trial was conducted over two days – January 24 and February 14. The prosecution cross-examined the bishop and Räsänen on their theology and alleged that the use of the word “sin” can be “harmful.” The defense argued that finding Räsänen guilty would significantly damage free speech in Finland. What Räsänen said and wrote was an expression of Christian teaching, the defense said.
The court, in its 30-page ruling, recognized that while some may object to Räsänen’s statements, “there must be an overriding social reason for interfering with and restricting freedom of expression.” The Court concluded there was no such justification.
“I am so grateful the court recognized the threat to free speech and ruled in our favor,” Räsänen said after her victory.
The case garnered international attention. Several US Senators penned a letter addressed to Rashad Hussain, US Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, expressing their concern over the “alarming” prosecution of Räsänen.
“We are greatly concerned that the use of Finnish hate speech law is tantamount to a secular blasphemy law,” the senators wrote. “It could open the door for prosecution of other devout Christians, Muslims, Jews and adherents of other faiths for publicly stating their religious beliefs.”