A Finnish court on Tuesday dismissed all hate speech charges for a second time against Finnish Member of Parliament Päivi Räsänen after she publicly expressed her Christian beliefs on marriage and sexual ethics.
Ms. Räsänen, Finland’s former Interior Minister, was charged with “agitation against a minority group” in 2021 for breaking the national statute on “war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
Ms. Räsänen, 63, was also charged for discussing her views on homosexuality in a 2019 live radio debate and for a pamphlet she published in 2004 discussing her church’s views on sexuality and marriage. Bishop Juhana Pohjola also faced charges because he helped publish the pamphlet and was also acquitted.
The evangelicals were originally acquitted in March 2022. However, the prosecution took the issue to the court of appeals in September 2023 for a second attempt at conviction.
Prosecutors claimed that it was Ms. Räsänen’s “interpretation” of the Bible which was criminal. Her interpretation was that marriage is between one man and one woman, which reflects the orthodox Christian teaching.
Finnish state prosecutor Anu Mantila said in an opening statement during the trial on Aug. 31:
“You can cite the Bible, but it is Räsänen’s interpretation and opinion about the Bible verses that are criminal.”
The appeals court said that it “has 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.”
The court also stated that “there must be an overriding social reason for interfering with and restricting freedom of expression.” It determined that no such justification existed in this case, adding, “it is not for the District Court to interpret biblical concepts.”
“I am deeply relieved. The court has fully endorsed and upheld the decision of the district court, which recognized everyone’s right to free speech,” said Ms. Räsänen after the verdict.
“It isn’t a crime to tweet a Bible verse, or to engage in public discourse with a Christian perspective. The attempts made to prosecute me for expressing my beliefs have resulted in an immensely trying four years, but my hope is that the result will stand as 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,” she added.
Ms. Räsänen was represented by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) International.
“At the heart of the prosecutor’s examination of 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 Räsänen had ‘blasphemed’ against the dominant orthodoxies of the day,” Executive Director Paul Coleman said in a statement.
“While we celebrate this monumental victory, we also remember that it comes after four years of police investigations, criminal indictments, prosecutions, and court hearings. We applaud the Helsinki Court of Appeal’s ruling in this case, and we work towards the bigger victory when such ludicrous cases are no longer brought. In a free and democratic society, all should be allowed to share their beliefs without fear of censorship. Criminalizing speech through so-called ‘hate-speech’ laws shuts down important public debates and poses a grave threat to our democracies. We are relieved to see courts enforce the rule of law when state authorities overstep by seeking to penalize and censor statements that they dislike,” he added.
The prosecution could still appeal a final time to Finland’s Supreme Court, but they must file their application by Jan. 15, 2024 to do so.