Today is a great day for freedom of religion and opinion in Finland–and beyond. Parliamentarian Päivi Räsänen and Lutheran Bishop Juhana Pohjola were acquitted of all charges of “homophobia” that hung over their heads. The Helsinki Prosecutor’s Office ruled that “it is not for the district court to interpret biblical concepts.” The prosecution has therefore been ordered to pay more than 60 thousand euros in legal costs and has seven days to appeal the sentence.
Päivi Räsänen had been charged with “inciting hatred” after sharing her views on marriage and sexual ethics, in a tweet 2019, in a radio debate and in a 2004 essay. Against Bishop Pohjola, the accusation was instead that he, as publisher, had published Räsänen’s pamphlet.
The MP and former Interior Minister says she is “grateful” and “relieved” by the court’s ruling. Räsänen’s hope now is that this acquittal will “prevent others from going through the same ordeal” in the future.
Christian words “harmful,” according to the indictment
From the very first day of the trial (January 24, 2022), the prosecutor argued that the case was not about beliefs or the Bible. The judge then quoted Old Testament verses and criticized the phrase “love the sinner, hate the sin.” In the closing statement, the prosecution stated that the use of the word “sin” can be “harmful” and suggested heavy fines in the event of a guilty verdict.
For its part, the defense, supported by the organization Alliance Defending Freedom International (ADF), argues that finding Päivi Räsänen guilty would significantly harm free speech in Finland. What the former minister said in the three indictments, defenders say, is an expression of Christian teaching.
The Court recognized that, although some may disagree with Räsänen’s assertions, “there must be a prevailing business reason for interfering with and restricting freedom of expression,” a reason that, in this case, finds no justification.
No to censorship
“We welcome the ruling of the Helsinki District Court. This is an important decision that upholds the fundamental right to free speech in Finland,” says Paul Coleman, executive director of ADF International. “In a free society, everyone should be allowed to share their beliefs without fear of censorship. This is the foundation of any free and democratic society,” Coleman adds. Criminalizing opinions, using “hate speech” laws, undermines “public debates” and “poses a serious threat to our democracies,” concludes ADF International’s executive director.