Finnish court acquits politician of 'hate crime' charges for Bible tweet against LGBT pride

Finnish Parliamentarian Päivi Räsänen, pictured here, was acquitted of hate speech charges on Tuesday related to her 2004 book and 2019 tweet supporting traditional marriage.
Finnish Parliamentarian Päivi Räsänen, pictured here, was acquitted of hate speech charges on Tuesday related to her 2004 book and 2019 tweet supporting traditional marriage. | Courtesy of ADF

A Finnish court of appeal on Tuesday tossed out the "hate crime" charges against a lawmaker and Lutheran bishop who have been in a four-year legal battle for expressing traditional Christian beliefs regarding sexuality and gender.

Finnish MP Päivi Räsänen was unanimously acquitted by the Helsinki Court of Appeals on charges stemming from her 2019 tweet that took issue with the Finnish Lutheran Church's promotion of LGBT "pride month" by citing verses from the Bible. She faced another charge for comments she made about homosexuality on a radio show.

She faced further charges for a pamphlet she wrote in 2004 titled "Male and Female He Created Them: Homosexual relationships challenge the Christian concept of humanity." Bishop Juhana Pohjola of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland also faced charges for having published the pamphlet 19 years ago.

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Räsänen, the former leader of Finland's Christian Democratic Party, who also served as Finland's interior minister from 2011 to 2015, had already been acquitted in March 2022 by the three-judge District Court of Helsinki, which ruled that the government should not be interpreting “biblical concepts.”

She was dragged back into court in August when state prosecutors appealed the lower court's ruling. One prosecutor took issue with her description of homosexuality as "sin," and argued that while she is free to cite the Bible, "it is Räsänen’s interpretation and opinion about the Bible verses that are criminal."

The charges against Räsänen and Pohjola fell under the umbrella of the "war crimes and crimes against humanity" section in Finnish law.

Paul Coleman, who is executive director of ADF International and served on Räsänen’s legal team, likened her trial to something medieval.

“At the heart of the prosecutor’s examination of Räsänen was this: would she recant her beliefs?" Coleman said. "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."

The appeals court on Tuesday ruled that they had "no reason, on the basis of the evidence received at the main hearing, to assess the case in any respect differently from the District Court. There is therefore no reason to alter the final result of the District Court’s judgment."

Despite objections from some to Räsänen's beliefs, the judges noted that "there must be an overriding social reason for interfering with and restricting freedom of expression."

The prosecution was ordered to pay tens of thousands of euros to cover the legal fees for both defendants, though they have until January to appeal to the Supreme Court of Finland.

“I am deeply relieved,” Räsänen said Tuesday following her latest acquittal, according to a press release from her lawyers at Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) International. “The court has fully endorsed and upheld the decision of the district court, which recognized everyone’s right to free speech.”

“It isn’t a crime to tweet a Bible verse, or to engage in public discourse with a Christian perspective,” Räsänen continued. “The attempts made to prosecute me for expressing my beliefs have resulted in an immensely trying four years, but my hope is that the result will stand as a key precedent to protect the human right to free speech. I sincerely hope other innocent people will be spared the same ordeal for simply voicing their convictions.”

During an interview with The Christian Post shortly before her participation in the 2022 International Religious Freedom Summit in Washington, D.C., Räsänen placed her prosecution in the context of Christianity's receding influence in Finland and other Western nations.

"We all are sinners and we need Jesus. But now, I think there is a heavy hatred against Christian values in our society," she told CP at the time. "If you speak about gender issues — that there are two genders or that marriage belongs to one woman and one man — it arouses hatred against you in our society."

Explaining how she "never thought" she would ever be prosecuted for expressing traditional Christian views of marriage and sexuality, she said, "Nothing has changed in my faith and in my conviction, but suddenly I was like a criminal because of this hate."

"The world has changed," she added. "I think that my conviction has not changed but the world has changed very [quickly] in Finland and I think that also in other Western countries, post-Christian countries."

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