Last Updated on March 31, 2022
A court in Helinski cleared Finnish MP Päivi Räsänen of all charges in a high-profile “hate speech” trial. The charges against the Christian MP related to her comments in a 2004 pamphlet, her appearance on a 2018 television program, and a Twitter post in 2019. A prosecutor charged Räsänen, who served as Finland’s interior minister from 2011 to 2015, with incitement against a minority group, arguing that her statements were “likely to cause intolerance, contempt, and hatred towards homosexuals.”
The court dismissed all charges against Päivi Räsänen, who served as Finland’s Interior Minister from 2011 through 2015. Räsänen, who is a bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, was charged over statements she made regarding traditional marriage. The MP had stood by her belief that marriage is between a man and a woman, and that doing otherwise would compromise her Christian faith. This was not sufficient for Finnish Prosecutor General Raija Toiviainen, however, who asserted that the Christian MP’s beliefs amounted to “hate speech” and incitement.
Räsänen, who was chairwoman of the Christian Democrats party from 2004 to 2015, questioned her church’s sponsorship of an LGBT pride event in 2019. On June 17, 2019, she asked in a Twitter post how the sponsorship was compatible with the Bible, linking to a photograph of a biblical passage, Romans 1:24-27, on Instagram. She also posted the text and image on Facebook.
Police subsequently launched an “investigation” into Räsänen, who was forced to undergo several interviews with law enforcement. She ultimately had to wait more than a year for the Prosecutor General’s decision. Eventually, the Finnish Prosecutor General, a leftist, announced last May the state had enough evidence to charge her.
The state said that her statements were “derogatory and discriminatory against homosexuals,” and violated “their equality and dignity,” and that as a result, her comments would “overstep the boundaries of freedom of speech and religion and are likely to fuel intolerance, contempt and hatred.” Each count could have resulted in a two-year prison sentence or fine, meaning that Räsänen could have faced up to six years in prison.
But on March 30, a Helinski court said in a unanimous 28-page ruling that “it is not for the district court to interpret biblical concepts”, and that Räsänen had sought to “defend the concept of family and marriage between a man and a woman.” If some people found the statements offensive, it said, “there must be an overriding social reason for interfering with and restricting freedom of expression,”, reports the National Catholic Register.
Additionally, prosecutors were ordered to pay Räsänen’s legal bills, which amounted to more than 60,000 euros.
“I am so grateful the court recognized the threat to free speech and ruled in our favor. I feel a weight has been lifted off my shoulders after being acquitted,” Räsänen said in a statement. “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.”
The International Lutheran Council described the decision to prosecute Räsänen as “egregious” in a statement. “The vast majority of Christians in all nations, including Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, share these convictions,” the church wrote. “Would the Finnish Prosecutor General condemn us all? Moreover, shall the Finnish state risk governmental sanctions from other states based on the abuse of foundational human rights?”
The majority of Finland’s population of 5.5 million are Christians. Around two thirds belong to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, one of the country’s two national churches, alongside the Finnish Orthodox Church.
The case against Räsänen gained international attention from various Christian organizations, as well as free speech activists who worried about the dangers of “hate speech” statutes gaining legitimacy in Europe.