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Bible-quoting Finnish MP and Lutheran bishop acquitted again of hate speech charges


UPDATE: Finnish Member of Parliament (MP) Päivi Räsänen and Lutheran Bishop Juhana Pohjola have been acquitted of alleged hate speech and ethnic agitation after prosecutors appealed a lower court ruling claiming that by citing biblical beliefs on homosexuality the pair had committed a crime.

Räsänen was charged due to a 2019 tweet criticizing her church’s sponsorship of a LGBT pride event. She cited Romans 1:24-27, which calls homosexuality sinful and unnatural. “How does the church’s doctrine, the Bible, fit together with the cause where shame and sin are raised as a topic of pride?” the tweet asked.

She was also charged for discussing her views on homosexuality in a press interview and for a pamphlet she published in 2004 discussing her church’s views on sexuality and marriage. Pohjola faced charges because he helped publish the booklet.

The district court acquitted the two in March 2022, dismissing all charges.

The prosecution appealed. In its arguments, the prosecution claimed that it was Räsänen’s and Pohjola’s  “interpretation” of the Bible which was criminal.

On Tuesday, the Helsinki Court of Appeal dismissed the charges, ruling,

“The Court of Appeal accepts the reasoning and conclusions of the district court’s judgment. The Court of Appeal has 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.”

The court also stated that “there must be an overriding social reason for interfering with and restricting freedom of expression.” It determined that no such justification existed in this case, adding, “it is not for the District Court to interpret biblical concepts.”

Räsänen praised the ruling saying she was “deeply relieved.”

“The court has fully endorsed and upheld the decision of the district court, which recognized everyone’s right to free speech,” she stated.  

“It isn’t a crime to tweet a Bible verse, or to engage in public discourse with a Christian perspective. 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.”

Räsänen was represented by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) International. Executive Director Paul Coleman said in a statement,

“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.”

He added,

“While we celebrate this monumental victory, we also remember that it comes after four years of police investigations, criminal indictments, prosecutions, and court hearings. We applaud the Helsinki Court of Appeal’s ruling in this case, and we work towards the bigger victory when such ludicrous cases are no longer brought. 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. We are relieved to see courts enforce the rule of law when state authorities overstep by seeking to penalize and censor statements that they dislike.”

U.S. lawmakers had asked the State Department to place Finland on its religious freedom watchlist for its harassment of Räsänen and Pohjola.

Sam Brownback, former ambassador at large for international religious freedom from 2018 to 2021, posted on X (formerly Twitter),

“This is a great victory for religious freedom and free speech but it is sad this baseless prosecution went so far. @PaiviRasanen never threatened or attacked anyone, she simply shared her faith. That should never be considered a criminal offense.”

The prosecution can appeal this ruling to Finland’s Supreme Court if they so choose, but they must file their application by January 15.

Original Story

{Published March 30, 2022} In a huge win for religious liberty and free speech, a Finnish court has thrown out all “hate speech” charges against a member of Finland’s Parliament and a Lutheran bishop for quoting the Bible when sharing their faith-based beliefs about same-sex marriage and sexual ethics.

Päivi Räsänen, a grandmother who has served in Finland’s Parliament for decades, was investigated for writing a pamphlet in 2004 outlining her church’s teachings on marriage; participating in a 2018 media interview during which she discussed the biblical view on homosexuality; and posting a social media post in 2019 of an image of Romans 1:24-27.

For this, she was charged with three counts of “ethnic agitation” under the war crimes and crimes against humanity section of the Finnish criminal code. Lutheran Bishop Juhana Pohjola was also charged with hate speech crimes for publishing and distributing Räsänen’s pamphlet. 

The court ruled unanimously to dismiss all charges against both defendants on the grounds that “it is not the district court’s job to interpret biblical concepts.” It also ordered the prosecution to pay 60,000 EUR to the defendants to cover their legal costs. The prosecution has seven days to appeal the court’s ruling.

Räsänen, whose legal defense was supported by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) International, said of her acquittal, “I am so grateful the court recognized the threat to free speech and ruled in our favour. I feel a weight has been lifted off my shoulders after being acquitted. Although I am grateful for having had this chance to stand up for freedom of speech, I hope that this ruling will help prevent others from having to go through the same ordeal.”

ADF International tweeted their celebration for the victory: 

“We are thrilled that Päivi has been acquitted of ALL THREE charges, including for sharing her Christian views in a Tweet. In a thundering affirmation of religious freedom, the judgment reads ‘It is not the role of the district court to interpret biblical concepts.’”

The trial of Räsänen and Bishop Pohjola gained international attention and condemnation as it marks one of the first instances in a very long time that a Western nation put citizens on criminal trial for publicly stating their religious beliefs. During the initial police investigation, Räsänen was interrogated for hours about her Christian beliefs, and she was even asked repeatedly to explain her understanding of the Bible.

In a show of solidarity, thousands of supporters gathered outside the courtroom in Helsinki, and another 3,000 stood outside the Finnish embassy in Budapest, Hungary, to hear closing arguments.

Prosecutors, who claimed in their opening statements that the case had nothing to do with the Bible or biblical beliefs, nonetheless put Christian teachings on trial, arguing that, in an age of inclusivity and diversity, statements and beliefs such as “love the sinner, hate the sin” are hateful and discriminatory to LGBT persons and others. The state also argued that using the word “sin” is harmful.

By contrast, Räsänen’s lawyers argued that a conviction would cause significant damage to free speech in Finland, especially since her postings and words were based on her sincerely held religious beliefs and biblical teaching.

The court agreed and found that while others may be offended by her words, she did not intend to “disparage homosexuals.” They noted that “there must be an overriding social reason for interfering with and restricting freedom of expression,” but that reason did not exist in Räsänen’s case.

The prosecution has seven days to appeal the ruling.

This is an important victory for free speech and religious liberty. For Päivi Räsänen and Bishop Juhana Pohjola, a guilty verdict would have been a gross injustice, but it would have also given the Finnish government free reign to target anyone whose religious views dissented from that of the state and LGBTQ doctrines.

However, the fact that this case ever went to trial shows how far the West has strayed from the ideals of liberal democracy. And make no mistake: this will not be the last time a Western country will attempt to criminalize religious belief and speech. Totalitarianism — powered by the emotional and insular demands of LGBT activists and secular humanists — is clearly on the rise, and the one thing that totalitarians will not tolerate is belief in a higher authority that exists beyond their own power to control and subsume.

If that seems like an exaggeration, consider how “hate speech” laws have become so accepted that no one thinks twice about forcing artists and bakers and florists to say words and express ideas that are anathema to their religious beliefs or where pro-life healthcare providers are forced to perform abortions. In Canada, where pastors and protesters are now routinely jailed for questioning the wisdom of the state, a new law known as the C-4 bill that bans gay conversion therapy could criminalize Christian teaching if it’s used to help someone accept their God-given biological sex. The U.S. government doesn’t bat an eye when social media companies block and ban the accounts of people who disagree with LGBTQ arguments or who post unapproved facts or opinions on COVID or other topics. And Congress has even attempted to pass the Equality Act, which would elevate the rights of LGBTQ persons and the abortion trade above everyone else’s God-given rights to religious liberty and conscience and above the safety and security of biological women.

With this one wise ruling, Finland’s court has managed to slow the trampling of religious liberty and free speech, but without doubt, those bent on squashing all dissent and building an increasingly totalitarian and secular society will not stop — not in Finland and not in any other Western democracy either.

The secular totalitarians insist that they only seek inclusivity, tolerance, acceptance, and love, but these are terms that have been twisted in order to deceive Christians into compromising their beliefs and watering down biblical teachings.

To guard against this threat, Christians must stand firmly on the Word of God and stand up for their faith. And, if that means there one day comes a cost, as it did for Räsänen and Bishop Pohjola, then, in the words of the long-jailed Canadian Pastor Artur Pawlowski, “so be it.”

The Church must be involved in public discourse and influence. That’s why we write — so our readers can be equipped to understand and pursue righteous change in the world. For more timely, informative, and faith-based content, subscribe to the Standing for Freedom Center newsletter.

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