A member of Finland’s Parliament went before a criminal court last week where she is being forced to defend her rights to freedom of speech and religion over a social media post that included an image of a Bible verse condemning homosexuality as a sin.
Päivi Räsänen, a Christian, a parliamentarian for 25 years, and a former minister of the interior, went on trial on January 24 after being charged with three counts of “ethnic agitation” under the war crimes and crimes against humanity section of the Finnish criminal code. The charges are for a social media post that included an image of Romans 1:24-27, a pamphlet she wrote in 2004 that outlined her church’s teachings on marriage, and a 2018 interview in which she asked, “What would Jesus think about homosexuals?”
Also being tried is Lutheran Bishop Juhana Pohjol, who published Räsäne’s now 18-year-old pamphlet, titled “Male and Female He Created Them: Homosexual Relations Challenge the Christian Concept of Humanity.”
The Finnish government has been investigating Räsänen since 2019. However, Räsänen defended her social media post, saying it was a direct challenge to the Evangelical Lutheran Church’s support for a gay pride event in Helsinki, not a criticism of people living a gay lifestyle.
“In all the charges, I deny any wrongdoing,” Räsänen said in a statement. “My writings and statements under investigation are linked to the Bible’s teaching on marriage, living as a man and a woman, as well as the Apostle Paul’s teaching on homosexual acts. The teachings concerning marriage and sexuality in the Bible arise from love to one’s neighbor, not from hate towards a group of people.”
She also said the Finnish court’s decision will come in a month and could have dire consequences for all Christians in her country.
On the first day of the trial, the prosecution argued that the views shared by Räsänen and Pohjola are “discriminatory towards minorities,” explaining that while religious freedom exists, it must be “limited within certain boundaries.”
Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) International, one of the law firms representing the two defendants, urged the court “not to impose their own theological interpretation of scripture on to citizens by criminalizing traditional Christian views on marriage and sexuality,” explaining that “a guilty verdict would appear as a de facto criminalization of the Bible verses tweeted by the parliamentarian.”
Räsänen told CBN News her reason for posting the image to social media was to wake up the church in Finland. “And when praying, I got convinced that it is not my time to jump out of the sinking boat as a parable of the church, but to try and wake up the sleeping ones in the church in that boat,” she said.
Regarding her case, Räsänen said, “The possible sentence for the crime of ethnic agitation would be up to two years imprisonment or a fine. But an even more serious problem would be the resulting censorship: an order to remove social media updates or a ban on posting. The sentence would open the floodgates to a ban on similar publications and the threat of modern book burnings.”
She believes this would be the first time the court has made a decision on whether or not it is legal to cite the Bible.
“I have carefully gone through all my writings and statement, that are now being scrutinized, and I stand behind these thoughts that derive from the classical Christianity,” Räsänen said. “I feel it is my honor to defend freedom of speech and religion. I defend the right to confess the Christian faith and its teaching on the human being.”
Nina Shea and Paul Marshall, senior fellows of the Hudson Institute and its Center for Religious Freedom, wrote in a recent essay for the Washington Examiner, “The decision in the Finland case will be momentous. Convictions on this controversial subject will erode the twin freedoms at the foundation of the state’s democracy. A Western secular court will have set a new precedent in deciding permissible Christian teaching and establishing ‘certain boundaries.'”
If a person is not free to speak about their religious views then what freedom do they have? There is nothing hateful about what Räsänen said. There is hate present in this situation, but it is not from her or the Bible.
For all of the religious liberties western democracies have enjoyed over the past several centuries, we knew it would not last. In John 3:19-20*, Jesus said, “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.”
The world wants to continue in its sin and doesn’t want to hear the demanding and exclusive truth of God that confronts them in their sin. Jesus warned His disciples in John 15:18-21, “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me.”
In the same way that the Jews gnashed their teeth and covered their ears as they rushed to stone Stephen as he tried to tell them the truth (Acts 7:54-60), Finland, and much of the world, is now trying to cover their ears with hate speech and nondiscrimination laws — not because Christians are hateful but because the world hates Christ.
* All verses taken from NASB1995.