A member of Finland’s parliament will appear in court later this month, again facing “hate speech” charges for a tweet citing Bible verses, more than a year after a district court dismissed the charges against her.
Prosecutors appealed the Helsinki District Court’s unanimous March 2022 ruling clearing Päivi Räsänen, a member of the Finnish parliament and the country’s former minister of the interior, and Bishop Juhana Pohjola, of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, of “hate speech” charges.
The court ruled that it isn’t the court’s job “to interpret biblical concepts.”
Yet the prosecution argues the court “misinterpreted” Räsänen’s tweet, according to a translation of the Finnish documents. (Alliance Defending Freedom International, which represents Räsänen, provided the translation to The Daily Signal. The Daily Signal separately obtained the documents from the Finnish court.)
The prosecution claimed that the court failed to “fully perceive and understand” the “degrading and dehumanizing” message against “homosexuals and … their right to dignity and self-determination.”
“In order to protect the dignity and equality of homosexuals, it is necessary to exclude Räsänen’s statements from freedom of expression by interpreting them as punishable hate speech directed at them [homosexuals],” the prosecution wrote.
Räsänen will appear in court for her trial on Aug. 31. House Republicans sent a letter Tuesday urging U.S. diplomats to press Finland on the issue.
The case pits free speech laws against “hate speech” statutes that ADF International warns have a “chilling effect on freedom of expression.”
“Vague hate speech laws, such as that found in Section 10 of the Finnish Criminal Code, have a significant chilling effect on freedom of expression,” Elyssa Koren, legal communications director at ADF International, told The Daily Signal. “Individuals are left with no clear guidance as to whether their deeply held beliefs will be the subject of criminal prosecution merely because another person is offended by them and deems them ‘hateful.'”
“Räsänen’s case really is a litmus test for how robust our protections for fundamental rights like free speech and freedom of religion really are,” Koren added.
Räsänen, 62, has served in the Finnish parliament since 1995 and served as interior minister from 2011 to 2015. She is a member of the center-right Christian Democrats party.
Her case dates to June 2019, when the Finnish legislator criticized the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland for supporting an LGBTQ Pride event.
“The whole case started when I criticized the leadership of the church because of its support for the ‘Pride’ event on Twitter,” Räsänen told The Daily Signal.
“The church has announced that it is the official partner of [the LGBTQ group] SETA in Pride 2019,” the legislator tweeted. “How does the doctrine of the church, the Bible, fit together with the fact that shame and sin are raised as a matter of ‘pride’?”
Her tweet included a photo of a 2004 pamphlet she wrote with the title “As Man and Woman He Created Them,” explaining the Bible’s position on sexuality and marriage with citations from the Old and New Testaments. The photo cites Romans 1:24-27, which reads, “women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones” and “men committed shameful acts with other men.” Pohjola, who published the pamphlet, faces the charges alongside her.
“The archbishop of the church has publicly said that it is good that this case is being evaluated by the court,” Räsänen told The Daily Signal. “I have received thousands of messages of support from the members and even some pastors of the church, but not from the top leadership. Some of the bishops have criticized me heavily.”
The International Lutheran Council wrote an open letter supporting the legislator, and bishops and presidents of dozens of Lutheran church bodies worldwide have signed the letter.
The Finnish Constitution enshrines the right to free speech in Article 12:
Everyone has the freedom of expression. Freedom of expression entails the right to express, disseminate and receive information, opinions and other communications without prior prevention by anyone. More detailed provisions on the exercise of the freedom of expression are laid down by an Act. Provisions on restrictions relating to pictorial programmes that are necessary for the protection of children may be laid down by an Act.
Finland has also ratified international human rights treaties that guarantee the right to free speech, such as Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (the free speech provision appears in the 19th article of each document); and Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
“Our hope is the the Helsinki Court of Appeals makes it clear that under Finnish law and international law (in particular Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights) people have the right to express their deeply held beliefs without criminal prosecution,” ADF International’s Koren told The Daily Signal.
She cited the 1976 case Handyside v. U.K., in which the European Court of Human Rights ruled that “shocking, disturbing, and offensive” views enjoy the protection of the European Convention on Human Rights because free speech “constitutes one of the essential foundations of [a democratic] society.” Koren lamented that after 1976, many European countries “have introduced hate speech laws that erode that right.”
If Finnish courts fail to uphold Räsänen’s rights, she will appeal to the European Court in Strasbourg, France, the ADF International lawyer said.
‘Hate Speech’ Laws
The European Commission presented an initiative to include “hate speech” on the list of European Union crimes in December 2021. The commission designates EU crimes as “particularly serious,” including a “cross-border dimension” that requires all member states to meet minimum standards to combat them. The current list of such crimes is rather short, including offenses such as terrorism, human trafficking, weapons, drugs, and organized crime. The “hate speech” initiative has yet to be approved.
“Considering the vague, arbitrary and subjective nature of defining ‘hate speech,’ it should never be categorized as a crime of this magnitude,” Koren said.
She argued that the Räsänen case reveals just how widely prosecutors can twist “hate speech” laws.
“The prosecution has argued that defending the biblical concept of marriage as between a man and a woman is degrading and dehumanizing,” Koren noted. “Christians have every right to express their deeply held beliefs on this topic without fear of punishment.”
“Traditional Christian views like Räsänen holds on issues such as marriage and human sexuality are increasingly branded as hostile and dangerous,” Koren argued. “The relentless prosecution of Päivi Räsänen has a chilling effect on others, who self-censor for fear of legal repercussions. A court has no business judging the Bible’s teachings and our right as Christians to uphold them.”
The prosecution arguably echoes some leftist efforts to brand conservative Christians hateful in the U.S.
Koren condemned “attempts to brand those who hold traditional Christian beliefs as ‘hate groups,’ attempts that “aim to stifle discussion and silence those with views that are not in line with state orthodoxy.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center, for instance, has branded ADF and other mainstream conservative and Christian nonprofits “hate groups,” placing them on a map with the Ku Klux Klan. My book “Making Hate Pay,” explains how the SPLC trades on its history in bankrupting Klan groups to demonize conservatives and raise money. Koren noted that the SPLC has been “widely discredited,” citing a former employee who described the “hate” accusations as a “highly profitable scam.”
“The SPLC’s claims are false and grossly mischaracterize our work,” the ADF International lawyer concluded.
Sixteen Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives sent a letter to U.S. Ambassador-At-Large for Religious Freedom Rashad Hussain and U.S. Ambassador to Finland Douglas Hickey, urging the U.S. ambassadors to press their Finnish counterparts on the “egregious and harassing” prosecution of Räsänen.
“This prosecutor is dead set on weaponizing the power of Finland’s legal system to silence not just a member of parliament and Lutheran bishop, but millions of Finnish Christians who dare to exercise their natural rights to freedom of expression and freedom of religion in the public square,” the Republicans warn. Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, led the effort.
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