Prosecution Against Christian Legislator to Continue
Finland has quite a track record going. For the fifth year in a row it landed recognition as the happiest place on earth in a recently released UN-sponsored report. Yet these have not been the happiest of years for a well-known legislator and a bishop who remain in the crosshairs of the Finnish government.
Päivi Räsänen — a Finnish Member of Parliament (MP) who a decade ago was the country’s Interior Minister and chair of the Christian Democrat Party — and Bishop Juhana Pohjola found themselves in hot water after Räsänen used Twitter and other social media to question her church leadership’s decision to partner with an LGBT celebratory event in 2019. That was enough to get her called in for questioning by the police, who also became interested in a related broadcast interview and a pamphlet published all the way back in 2004 (with the help of Pohjola). The Finnish Prosecutor General then lodged criminal charges against them for “hate speech.”
As you may know, this story appeared to have a happy ending when a district court in Helsinki acquitted the MP and the bishop at the end of March. In a unanimous decision, the trial’s judges found that just because Räsänen’s statements might offend, they were not an “incitement to hatred.” They affirmed that “there must be an overriding social reason for interfering with and restricting freedom of expression,” and that threshold was not reached here. For good measure the court also required the prosecution to pay for more than €60,000 to cover the legal fees of the defendants.
Sadly, the relief for Räsänen and Pohjola was short-lived. Alliance Defending Freedom International, which has been supporting the defense, announced on April 6 that Finland’s state prosecutor has signaled she will appeal the court’s ruling and continue pursuing the criminal allegations. According to previous reports, it’s possible this was could wind its way all the way up to the European Court of Human Rights.
“This case has been hanging over me and my family for almost three years,” said Räsänen. “After my full exoneration in court, I am dismayed that the prosecutor will not let this campaign against me drop.”
She added, “Once again, I am prepared to defend freedom of speech and religion not just for me, but for everyone. I am grateful for all those who have stood by me during this ordeal and ask for their continued support.”
We should be sure to praise God for the important court victory in Helsinki. But let’s keep praying. And let us not forget the chilling history — the ordeal, as Räsänen says — that led to this point.
First of all, keep in mind the original social media post (you can see it here). Don’t worry. Despite all the disturbing and outrageous things you can easily find elsewhere on Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and other platforms, you won’t see any derogatory or violent imagery in this instance. The picture just highlights verses from the Book of Romans.
Notably, in a 2020 interview with First Things, Räsänen said, “The purpose [of] my tweet was in no way to insult sexual minorities. My criticism was aimed at the leadership of the church.”
Whether you agree with Räsänen’s expressions or not, a reasonable observer would seem hard-pressed to find an incitement to violence or other dehumanization here. In fact, as you can see, even the social media platforms — not always friends of free speech — chose to leave the posts up despite international scrutiny. Similarly, the Finnish broadcaster kept the interview in question available.
But Finnish Prosecutor General Anu Mantila had a very different perspective. She suggested that “freedom of thought and conscience is unrestricted,” but that expressing ideas and beliefs was a different matter. Through her lens making a faith statement about the deeds of an individual is actually levying judgment on the whole worth of a person.
Strikingly, she said, “Actions cannot be separated from identity because actions are part of identity. Understanding deeds as sin is derogatory.”
That argument should send up a flag of caution for all freedom-loving people. Indeed, wary of a secular form of dangerous blasphemy laws found in other parts of the world, former Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) said, “What’s unfolding in Finland should be a wake-up call to stand for our freedoms, rather than take them for granted.”
The longtime human rights champion added, “We may not think that such a case could happen in the United States, but Räsänen thought the same thing about Finland until it happened to her.”
Again, please continue to pray for Räsänen, Pohjola, and advocates working in Finland and beyond to defend freedom.
How are you praying for Räsänen and Pohjola? Share this article to encourage others to pray.
Aaron Mercer is a Contributing Writer with two decades of experience in Washington, D.C.’s public policy arena. Photo Credit: Canva.
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