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Religious Freedom Victory For Finnish MP

by | Thu, Nov 16 2023

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A long-time Christian politician in Finland has just won the most important victory of her career. Dr. Päivi Räsänen has been found not guilty of hate speech for sharing verses from the Bible, for a second time. Helsinki’s Court of Appeal unanimously followed a lower court decision and dismissed all three criminal charges against her. But her legal ordeal may still not be over.

The court 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: “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 she was “deeply relieved” after a legal ordeal which has so far lasted more than four-years. She could have been jailed for two years and heavily fined if she had been convicted. Dr. Räsänen 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” with the charges against her falling under the umbrella of the “war crimes and crimes against humanity” section in Finnish law. She confessed her treatment had been personally very difficult, but she hoped her case creates 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.”

Dr. Räsänen’s ordeal began in June 2019, when she 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 nearly 20 years earlier, plus a radio interview reflecting similar views. She was charged over all three comments and faced a criminal trial last year. 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. Bishop Juhana Pohjola of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland was also cleared of related charges.

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.”

Dr. Rasanen’s legal battles may still not be over. “The prosecutor still has one more option to appeal this ruling to the Supreme Court of Finland. And she was on media earlier today in Finland saying she is seriously considering appealing. The deadline for that is the 15th of January. So we will know in two months time whether this is the end of the road in this prosecution, or whether it will continue on for another year or two or more,” Mr. Coleman said.

He added that despite the joy of acquittal, 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. So we celebrate the acquittal of course, but we also have to remember that the case should never have been taken in the first place.”

Photo: ADF International

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