A Finnish court has dismissed all charges against a Christian member of Parliament and a bishop charged under Finland’s “hate speech” and “ethnic agitation” law for supporting traditional marriage. The court ordered the government to reimburse the two.
In a unanimous ruling Wednesday, the Helsinki District Court determined that it isn’t its job “to interpret biblical concepts” in dropping the case against Päivi Räsänen, a member of the Finnish Parliament and former minister of interior, and Bishop Juhana Pohjola.
“I am so grateful the court recognized the threat to free speech and ruled in our favour,” Räsänen, also a medical doctor, said in a press release.
“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,” she said.
ADF International, which helped defend Räsänen and issued the press release on the court ruling in Finland, is the global arm of Alliance Defending Freedom, an Arizona-based legal organization specializing in religious liberty.
Early in the case, the prosecutor’s office said Räsänen’s statements “violate the equality and dignity of homosexuals, so they transcend the boundaries of freedom of speech and religion.”
The prosecutor quoted a Bible verse included in Räsänen’s tweet. In the closing argument of the trial, the prosecution alleged that the word “sin” could be “harmful” and called for heavy fines in the event of a guilty verdict.
Prosecutors charged Pohjola, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, with one count of violating the law in connection with hosting a pamphlet published by Räsänen on his church’s website 17 years ago.
But the court didn’t agree and issued a stinging defeat to the government, ordering the prosecution to pay 60,000 euros (about $66,940) in legal costs, according to Alliance Defending Freedom. The government has seven days to appeal.
Räsänen, 62, who is a member of the center-right Christian Democrat Party, has been a member of the Finnish Parliament since 1995. From 2011 to 2015, she was the government’s interior minister.
In 2004, Räsänen published a pamphlet, titled “Male and Female He Created Them,” about the Bible’s teaching on marriage. In 2019, she spoke on a radio program about her controversial tweet including a photo of Romans 1: 24–27, which says that “women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones” and “Men committed shameful acts with other men.”
For that, prosecutors charged Räsänen with three counts of violating Finland’s ethnic agitation law.
Finland’s ethnic agitation law was adopted in the 1970s to protect ethnic minorities and was amended several times to extend it on the basis of disabilities and sexual orientation.
The law says:
A person who makes available to the public or otherwise spreads among the public … an expression of opinion or another message where a certain group is threatened, defamed or insulted on the basis of its race, skin colour, birth status, national or ethnic origin, religion or belief, sexual orientation or disability or a comparable basis, shall be sentenced for ethnic agitation to a fine or to imprisonment for at most two years.
The case garnered international attention over its focus on free speech.
Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, praised the Finnish court’s decision Wednesday while noting the injustice of the prosecution.
“Today, I join with thousands of Americans and people around the world united in our joy and thankfulness that Finnish M.P. Päivi Räsänen and Bishop Juhana Pohjola were justly and unanimously found ‘not guilty,’” Roy said in a public statement.
During the trial, crowds gathered outside the Helsinki courthouse, according to the ADF International press release.
In Hungary, more than 3,000 gathered outside the Finnish Embassy in Budapest to protest the charges. Räsänen got letters of support from groups such as the International Lutheran Council and the European Evangelical Alliance.
“This decision is a victory for the God-given rights of free speech and religious expression both in Finland and across the globe,” Roy said in his written statement. “But, the fact that there was even a prosecution is unacceptable and a reminder that we must remain vigilant in defense of our faith, our values, and the very unalienable rights that form the foundation of Western civilization.”
In January, five Republican senators wrote to Rashad Hussain, the U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, expressing concern that Finland’s hate speech law “could open the door for prosecution of other devout Christians, Muslims, Jews and adherents of other faiths for publicly stating their religious beliefs.”
Andrew Brunson, an American pastor imprisoned in Turkey for about two years, traveled to Finland on behalf of the Family Research Council, a Washington-based educational institute focused on traditional values, for closing arguments that wrapped up Tuesday. Brunson brought 14,000 pledged prayer requests for the two defendants.
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