An appeals court has dismissed “hate speech” charges against a member of Finland’s parliament who posted a tweet citing Bible verses.
The Helsinki Court of Appeals, based in Finland’s capital city, unanimously cleared Päivi Räsänen, a member of the Finnish parliament and the country’s former interior minister, and Bishop Juhana Pohjola, of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, of “hate speech” charges.
The Helsinki District Court had unanimously cleared Räsänen and Pohjola of all charges in March 2022, but prosecutors appealed the case to a higher court, arguing that the lower court “misinterpreted” Räsänen’s tweet. 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.
Yet on Tuesday, the appeals court found that it “has no reason, on the basis of evidence received at the main hearing, to assess the case in any respect differently from the District Court.”
The district court had ruled that it isn’t the court’s job “to interpret biblical concepts.”
“I am deeply relieved,” Räsänen said in a statement after the ruling Tuesday. “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,” she noted. “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.”
The court ordered the prosecution to pay tens of thousands of euros in legal fees to cover Räsänen’s and Pohjola’s legal costs. The prosecution can appeal the case to the country’s Supreme Court before Jan. 15.
ADF International, which represented Räsänen and Pohjola, warned that “hate speech” charges threaten free speech rights.
“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 in August. “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, 62, has served in the Finnish parliament since 1995 and was 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 previously 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 teaches that “women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones” and “men committed shameful acts with other men.” Pohjola, who published the pamphlet, faced 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.
‘Hate Speech’ Laws
ADF International’s Koren 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 said. “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,” she said. “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.”
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