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Lord, please give our leaders wisdom to uphold freedom of speech and religion for all.
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What can land you in hot water in the happiest place on earth? Apparently, a tweet. That’s what Päivi Räsänen, a Finnish Member of Parliament, is finding out.

An annual survey of nations around the world recently concluded that — for the fourth year in a row — Finland is the happiest country of all. The nation understandably rejoiced in that honor, and Finland’s embassy here in the U.S. explained, “Our happiness stems from a balanced everyday life, supported by good governance, trust, wellbeing and equality.”

But there could be trouble under the surface.

At the end of April, the Finnish Prosecutor General decided to move forward with criminal charges against Räsänen, who a decade ago was the country’s Interior Minister and chair of the Christian Democrat Party. Her alleged crime? Taking to Twitter and other social media in 2019 to question her church leadership’s decision to partner with an LGBT celebratory event. Her post did not include derogatory or violent imagery. It just highlighted verses from the Book of Romans.

In an interview with First Things last May, Räsänen noted, “The purpose [of] my tweet was in no way to insult sexual minorities. My criticism was aimed at the leadership of the church.”

But, according to Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) International, that post got this leader — who is also a medical doctor, mother, and grandmother — hauled in by police for a lengthy interrogation. And the newly announced formal charges could land her in prison for two years!

That’s not all. During the investigation, Finnish authorities also took an interest in a booklet Dr. Räsänen wrote in 2004 related to her church’s position on sexuality, as well as a televised interview that explored her beliefs on marriage and sexuality in 2018. Those two matters and the social media post led the Prosecutor General to file “hate speech” charges against Räsänen, suggesting that those expressions of her beliefs were “likely to cause intolerance, contempt, and hatred towards homosexuals.”

Again, according to ADF, each of those other two charges could also potentially tack on two years of jail time.

Paul Coleman, Executive Director of ADF International, emphasized the importance of this free speech case for those who purport to uphold democratic values. He called the rise of such cases in Europe “sobering” and warned that the Finnish authorities’ decision to prosecute this case “creates a culture of fear and censorship.”

“If committed civil servants like Päivi Räsänen are criminally charged for voicing their deeply held beliefs, it creates a chilling effect for everyone’s right to speak freely,” he said.

Thankfully, some leaders, like former U.S. Ambassador for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, are speaking out. Brownback tweeted on Wednesday, “With the rise of religious persecution around the world, it is more important than ever that we respect the views of people of faith. I hope Finland will respect MP Päivi Räsänen’s freedom of belief.”

But more voices are needed.

For her part, Räsänen is committed to staying in the fight. She believes her views are certainly legal and not something the government should censor. And she believes Christians must speak or risk an ever narrowing allowance for freedom.

She declared, “I will defend my right to confess my faith, so that no one else would be deprived of their right to freedom of religion and speech.”

Aaron Mercer is a Contributing Writer with two decades of experience in Washington, D.C.s public policy arena. He reflects on faith, technology, and the public square at FTPolicy.com. (Photo Credit: Canva.)

How will you pray for freedom to prevail in democratic nations abroad — and here?

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