The legal ordeal of a veteran Christian politician in Finland has already dragged on for nearly five years and looks set to continue for more. Dr. Päivi Räsänen has twice been found not guilty of hate speech for sharing verses from the Bible with Helsinki’s Court of Appeal unanimously supporting a lower court decision and dismissing all three criminal charges against the MP, but prosecutors are refusing to accept those verdicts.
Prosecutor General Raija Toiviainen is appealing to the Supreme Court under a section of Finnish law which criminalises “war crimes and crimes against humanity.” Each charge carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison.
Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland Bishop Juhana Pohjola who is a co-defendant in the case will also face an appeal after being acquitted by the courts. He was the publisher of a booklet which Dr. Räsänen wrote 20 years ago in which she states that same sex marriage is contrary to the teachings of the Bible.
Their ordeal began in June 2019, when Dr. Räsänen tweeted the text of Romans 1:24-27 which condemns homosexuality as “sinful.” She was alarmed over a decision by her denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, to support an LGBT+ Pride event, so she responded by sharing Scripture on her X account, sparking a criminal complaint.
Then, a pamphlet surfaced detailing her Biblical views on sexuality that she had written 20 years earlier. A radio interview reflecting similar views was also uncovered. The prominent politician was charged over all three comments and faced a criminal trial in a District Court 2022. She was acquitted on all charges, but the prosecutor appealed and she had to wait another year to be cleared again.
The former leader of Finland’s Christian Democratic Party was most concerned that her case essentially put the Bible on trial in Finland, despite the fact the nation has freedom of faith and speech enshrined in its constitution. She worried about the potential impact of losing her case. “It would start the time of persecution of Christians in Finland if I would be convicted. Then it would have ramifications to other European countries. It is not a court that should decide what is the right interpretation of the Bible and what is not,” she asserted.
Dr. Rasanen vowed that she’s “ready to defend freedom of speech and religion as far as the European Court of Human Rights, if necessary”.
The decision to prosecute Dr. Räsänen and Bishop Pohjola, has sparked widespread condemnation, not only from Evangelical leaders worldwide but also from Senators and academics in the US. In 2022, five US senators wrote to the US Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom warning that the prosecution might lead to a “secular blasphemy law” under which to prosecute Christians, Muslims, and Jews for their religious beliefs.
Helsinki’s Court of Appeal unanimously ruled that it 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.” Dr. Räsänen declared at the time: “The court has fully endorsed and upheld the decision of the District Court which recognised everyone’s right to free speech”
The former Interior Minister who’s a qualified medical doctor and pastor’s wife told CBN Digital following the verdict that she was “deeply relieved” and proclaimed: “It isn’t a crime to tweet a Bible verse or to engage in public discourse with a Christian perspective.”
She labelled her prosecution “absurd and crazy’ and “akin to medieval times.” She confessed her treatment had been personally very difficult, but she hoped her case would create 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.”
Paul Coleman, who is executive director of ADF International and served on Dr. Räsänen’s legal team, observed: ” At the heart of the prosecutor’s examination of Dr. 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 Dr. Räsänen had ‘blasphemed’ against the dominant orthodoxies of the day.”
He said of the prosecution: “They just started going back in time. They found a booklet that she published for her church almost 20 years ago, which was many years before the law that she’s being charged under was even adopted. Then they took a very-out-of-context extract from a live radio debate that she had done in 2019. And they strung these three charges together, accusing her of hate speech, essentially, for expressing her Christian beliefs on marriage and human sexuality over an almost two decade long period.”
Realising that a prosecution appeal was likely, Mr Coleman observed that the length and nature of the legal proceedings has meant: “The process ultimately becomes the punishment. We’re talking about years of her life. It’s hugely expensive defending herself. The state has unlimited resources to prosecute her. And then of course to defend herself is costly in terms of time and money. And so to be dragged through the courts for this length of time; It is an ordeal in and of itself. We also have to remember that the case should never have been taken in the first place.”
Photo: ADF International