CV NEWS FEED // In a unanimous decision, the Helsinki Court of Appeal in Finland ruled this week that two Christians are not guilty of “hate speech” for expressing their religious beliefs.
The Court dismissed all charges against Päivi Räsänen and Lutheran Bishop Juhana Pohjola, according to an Alliance Defending Freedom International (ADF International) press release published Tuesday.
“At the heart of the prosecutor’s examination of Räsänen was this: would she recant her beliefs? The answer was no – she would not deny the teachings of her faith. The cross-examination bore all the resemblance of a ‘heresy’ trial of the Middle Ages; it was implied that Räsänen had ‘blasphemed’ against the dominant orthodoxies of the day,” said Paul Coleman, Executive Director of ADF International:
While we celebrate this monumental victory, we also remember that it comes after four years of police investigations, criminal indictments, prosecutions, and court hearings…In a free and democratic society, all should be allowed to share their beliefs without fear of censorship. Criminalizing speech through so-called ‘hate-speech’ laws shuts down important public debates and poses a grave threat to our democracies.
In 2019, Räsänen, Finland’s former Interior Minister and a long-time member of Parliament, cited a passage from the New Testament book of Romans on her X account condemning same-sex “marriage” in response to the Evangelical Lutheran Church’s sponsoring of a LGBTQ event.
The tweet resulted in a complaint brought against her for violating Finland’s hate speech laws, which fall under the Finnish Criminal Code titled “War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity.”
If convicted, Räsänen could have faced either heavy fines or a maximum punishment of two years in jail.
“Dragging an individual through a grueling criminal trial simply for expressing their religious beliefs is not a marker of democracy and ‘progress,’” said Coleman in a September press release at the end of the trial. ADF International represented the defendants for the past four years.
Räsänen’s co-defendant, Pohjola, faced charges for publishing a pamphlet in 2004 that Räsänen wrote called “As Man and Woman He Created Them.”
Pohjola also expressed relief and joy at the news of the acquittal. “I was very thankful, and I read Psalm 103, that says the prayers of thank you to our Lord,” he said, describing the moment he learned of the decision. He continued:
We were both asked separately if we would be willing to take away the pamphlet… from our website, and I answered that there’s no theological and legal reason to do that. We found out that today that there’s no legal reason to do it. For me, this case has not only been a cultural or legal battle, but also a spiritual battle.
After the announcement of the decision, Räsänen said: “I am deeply relieved. The court has fully endorsed and upheld the decision of the district court, which recognized everyone’s right to free speech.”
“While I celebrate this victory wholeheartedly, I am also saddened at the thought of the enormous state resources and spending over the last four years to persecute us for nothing more than the peaceful expression of our Christian faith. The basic human right to free speech remains under serious threat in Finland and around the world,” Räsäsen said in a press conference Tuesday.
She said that the ideological bias of the prosecutor was “evident”: “As the prosecutor stated with regard to my expression, she said, ‘You can cite the Bible, but it is [the]… interpretation, and opinion about the Bible verses that are criminal.’”
Räsäsen has been tried in court twice. This is the second acquittal of all charges against her.
Despite Tuesday’s victory, it is probable that the case will continue.
Matti Sankamo with ADF International explained at the press conference that an appeal of the decision to the Finnish Supreme Court is very likely.
In the press conference Tuesday, Sankamo said that he had just received news of the main prosecutor in the case: “It is likely that she will appeal. If she does, I think the likelihood of the appeal being successful, [and] the Supreme Court trying the case, is very high.”
Sankamo explained that the Court of Appeal did not examine many of the difficult legal questions, so the Supreme Court would likely want to look at those. He also added that because this case has received “so much publicity,” the Supreme Court will likely want to signal that the court is making decisions on cases that matter to the public.
“I am very grateful for this situation now that this process, so far, is over. If this continues to the Supreme Court, of course I am ready to continue with my legal team. I am ready to fight for these freedoms, as far as it is needed. And also, I am happy that I have had the possibilities to tell about my faith, and to tell the good message of the Gospel,” said Räsänen.
Räsänen said that the amount of support and prayers she has received throughout the trials have been helpful. During the press conference, she shared that she had just received an email from a 16-year-old girl who said that the trial encouraged her to be openly Christian in her school.
“These messages are encouraging me, that it is worth the whole process–it has had a meaning, if it has encouraged a 16-year-old girl to be open about her faith and to have courage and to follow Christ. I believe the whole process has been in God’s hands, and we don’t yet know if this [will continue] or not, but I am ready to continue,” Räsänen said, expressing gratitude to God as well. “I just want to thank you and I want to say I am thankful to God today.”