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Friday, May 17, 2024 - 07:34 PM

INDEPENDENT CONSERVATIVE VOICE OF UPSTATE SOUTH CAROLINA

First Published in 1994

INDEPENDENT CONSERVATIVE VOICE OF
UPSTATE SOUTH CAROLINA

Paivi Rasanen Acquitted Over Hate Speech for Sharing Bible Verse

A Finnish parliamentarian and a Protestant church leader have been acquitted over charges of “hate speech” and violating the nation’s statute against “War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity” by sharing Bible verses and traditional Christian teachings about sexuality.

The Court of Appeals in Finland unanimously acquitted Päivi Räsänen, a Member of Parliament in Finland with the Christian Democrats Party, as well as Lutheran Bishop Juhana Pohjola, of all charges. Räsänen faced up to two years in prison, although the prosecutor lobbied for a fine in the thousands of euros.

Räsänen’s legal saga began after a 2019 social media post in which the devout Christian asked why her denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, would participate in an LGBTQ Pride march. The post included a photo of Romans 1:24-27, one of many Bible passages that declares same-sex intercourse is sinful. Authorities also filed charges over a 2004 booklet expounding on biblical doctrine titled “Male and Female He Created Them: Homosexual Relations Challenge the Christian Concept of Humanity,” as well as comments she made in December 2019 on Ruben Stiller’s radio show.

The Bible verses, prosecutors said, amounted to “hate speech” against people who identify as LGBTQ. Police arrested the 63-year-old grandmother of 11 and subjected her to 13 hours of interrogation. They also prosecuted Bishop Pohjola for publishing the booklet.

Last March 30, a three-judge panel of the Helsinki District Court unanimously acquitted the pair, saying the government violated the right to freedom of expression contained in Section 12 of the Finnish Constitution. “It is not for the district court to interpret biblical concepts,” the court ruled.

But shortly after her acquittal, in an act former U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback called “a sign of incredible hostility to religion,” then-Prosecutor General Raija Toiviainen appealed the case — charging Räsänen with “agitation against a minority” under a section of the nation’s law against “War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity.”

The prosecution would not accept truth, even absolute Truth, as a defense. “The point isn’t whether it is true or not, but that this is insulting,” said the prosecutor in her opening statement in the two-day trial, which spanned August 31 and September 1.

“At the heart of the prosecutor’s examination of Räsänen was this: Would she recant her beliefs? The answer was no — she would not deny the teachings of her faith,” said Alliance Defending Freedom International Executive Director Paul Coleman after the verdict. The legal proceedings “bore all the resemblance of a ‘heresy’ trial of the Middle Ages; it was implied that Räsänen had ‘blasphemed’ against the dominant orthodoxies of the day.”

But the Court of Appeals unanimously threw out all of the charges, stating that the law required the post to be intended to offend, and “there must be an overriding social reason for interfering with and restricting freedom of expression.” The state must pay the defendants’ legal fees, the court ordered.

“I never suspected for a moment that I was guilty of anything illegal in my writings or statements,” said Räsänen at a press conference shortly after the verdict, where she thanked God and her supporters. “This isn’t about my opinions, but about the rights of thousands and thousands of Christians to freedom of expression.”

Gratitude swept across Europe in the early morning hours after the verdict. “Glory to God! Brave Paivi Rasanen has been vindicated!” said author Rod Dreher, an American expatriate living in Hungary. “Common sense prevailed,” wrote Anglican Rev. Calvin Robinson of the U.K. thankfully.

But their legal nightmare may not yet be over. The prosecutor, Anu Mantila, told a Finnish media he is “seriously considering” appealing to the Supreme Court of Finland. Mantila believes the case involves two fundamental and equal human rights — the “right” to be free from discrimination and the freedom of religion — and, since the Court of Appeals simply repeated the findings of the lower court, he wanted a more in-depth vetting. Specifically, he said he wants the court to consider his contention that “hate speech” causes both psychological and physical damages — and to explain how he can prosecute speech accordingly.

“This issue should still get the opinion of the Supreme Court,” Mantila told a Finnish news source, Helsingin Sanomat. Manila said he wants some court to explain how and when he can prosecute alleged “hate speech” that does not clearly incite hatred. The court, he said, should show him where “the line is between punishable and non-punishable expression, when it comes to less serious hate speech that does not incite violence and hatred.” But Räsänen’s attorneys say the second trial came to the same conclusion, because the prosecution introduced no new facts. Finnish citizens have expressed their weariness with the ongoing prosecutions. One Finnish teacher announced, “My wallet announced that I am no longer interested in paying for this circus.”

Although jubilant over the outcome, Christians say the prosecution exemplifies the phrase: “The process is the punishment.”

“While we celebrate this monumental victory, we also remember that it comes after four years of police investigations, criminal indictments, prosecutions, and court hearings,” said Coleman. Arielle Del Turco, director of the Center for Religious Liberty at Family Research Council, cited Räsänen as one of 99 incidents of anti-Christian persecution that have taken place in the West in three years. 

“How long until American lawmakers are similarly prosecuted?” asked Family Research Council President Tony Perkins. Perkins and Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) met with Finnish Ambassador Mikko Hautala last month. 

Roy also warned that Räsänen’s trials could come to the United States during the debate over the so-called “Respect for Marriage” Act. “When you venture into hate crimes, you are now empowering the government to determine what is in your head, and now they’re going to prosecute you for thoughts ... and in this case, your religious views,” said Roy. “That is something we have to stand athwart.” At the 2023 Pray Vote Stand Summit, Roy hailed the Finnish MP as “a hero” who “gives you hope. She gives you a belief that we can stand up and stand athwart that kind of tyranny.”

Räsänen’s “acquittal is a monumental victory for free speech,” said Alliance Defending Freedom President and General Counsel Kristen Waggoner. “Päivi’s case serves as a stark reminder of the rising tide of censorship on a global scale.”

In biblical fashion, Räsänen rejoiced in her trials. “This whole process, this litigation, has given so many chances to testify about Jesus,” including “in a live broadcast straight to Finnish homes,” explained Räsänen on “Washington Watch with Tony Perkins” last June. “At the police station, we had the Bible on the table, and the police asked me questions. He asked me to explain, ‘What is the message of the Letter to Romans? What is the message of the first chapter?’ and so on.”

Räsänen said she is always careful to repeat her central motivation: “We have in the Bible the solution to the problem of sin, because Jesus has died for our sins.”

The prosecution, she said, “gives more chances to speak about biblical values” and “share the gospel and the word of God” with “captive audiences.” 

Ultimately, Prosecutor General Ari-Pekka Koivisto will decide whether to appeal the case, according to Finnish media sources. On Tuesday, Räsänen promised to endure to the end of her legal persecution, even all the way to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

“Whatever the consequence, I will not back down from my biblical convictions.”