Certain countries in Eastern Europe have a reputation for being more conservative, or at least less avowedly culturally left-wing, than America. Hungary is one, Poland is another, and Finland is a third. Yet that reputation is not always accurate and it was in Finland that Member of Parliament Päivi Räsänen and Lutheran Bishop Juhana Pohjola were both tried for “hate speech” after they publicly expressed their Christian beliefs.
As background, in 2019 Dr. Räsänen posted a tweet of a Bible verse and argued thather church’s official partnership with the LGBT event “Pride 2019″ was incompatible with Biblical teachings, so the church should not be partnering with the Pride event.
For that tweet, Dr. Räsänen was charged with having committed a crime of “ethnic agitation.” Section 10 of the Criminal Code of Finland says one can be charged with “agitation against a minority group” for spreading “an expression of opinion or another message where a certain group is threatened, defamed or insulted on the basis of its race, skin color, birth status, national or ethnic origin, religion or belief, sexual orientation or disability or a comparable basis.”
But Dr. Räsänen didn’t back down. Following the charges, she said, “I cannot accept that voicing my religious beliefs could mean imprisonment. I do not consider myself guilty of threatening, slandering, or insulting anyone. My statements were all based on the Bible’s teachings on marriage and sexuality. I will defend my right to confess my faith, so that no one else would be deprived of their right to freedom of religion and speech.”
She then initially won her case in May of 2022. Commenting on the courtroom victory, she said, “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. 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.”
But then the prosecutor appealed the district court’s ruling, so Dr. Räsänen had to go back to court and fight the battle all over again. That battle lasted until November 14, 2023, when she finally won again, this time at the appellate level.
Commenting on that victory, so many years after the 2019 tweet and years of slogging it out in the courtroom, she said, “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. 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.”
Dr. Räsänen was defended throughout the years of her legal battle by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a free speech-focused group based in the United States that fortunately has an international division that was able to take up her case and battle for her right to speak freely.
Featured image credit: By FinnishGovernment – https://www.flickr.com/photos/finnishgovernment/52880370095/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=131674107
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