Evangelical politician and bishop in Finland cleared of ‘hate speech’ charges for remarks about gay people

A Helsinki court on Wednesday dismissed all charges against a Finnish member of parliament and an evangelical bishop, each accused of hate speech for expressing biblical views on homosexuality.

A unanimous three-judge panel cleared Dr. Päivi Räsänen, a doctor and former interior minister of the country, and the Reverend Juhana Pohjola, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission diocese in Finland, of hate crime charges.

Judges ruled that “it is not for the district court to interpret biblical concepts” and ordered prosecutors to pay more than 60,000 euros ($66,757.80) in court costs, reports the advocacy group ADF International.

Prosecutors have seven days to appeal the decision, the advocacy group said in a statement. In a late afternoon video news conference, Dr Räsänen said she had “heard that prosecutors are likely to appeal” the verdict, but “we don’t know that yet.” An Associated Press report also noted the likelihood of an appeal, citing unnamed Finnish prosecutors.

Dr Räsänen added: “I stand ready to defend freedom of expression and religion in all necessary courts, including before [the] European Court of Human Rights, if necessary.

The physician-legislator told the press conference: “The court’s decision is important for Bible-believing Christians, but also for freedom of expression more broadly.”

She said several Finnish Christians told her they started “self-censorship” because they saw what she had been through during the three years of investigation and trial.

“I have [received] many posts from especially young Christians who said they were afraid to express their beliefs because their careers would be hampered if they were known to be believing Christians. I think today we have this kind of ‘cancel culture’ here in Finland,” Dr Räsänen said.

Two of the charges against the politician stemmed from a tweet she posted in 2019, when her church leaders supported a gay pride parade. In his tweet, Dr. Räsänen included a screenshot of four verses from Romans 1:24-27 that call homosexual acts “shameful.”

Along with the tweet, prosecutors cited a late 2019 radio interview in which Dr. Räsänen questioned the role of genetics in homosexuality and a 2004 pamphlet that observers said reflected “mainstream” views. found in the Bible.

The pamphlet, “Male and Female He Made Them: Same-Sex Relationships Challenge the Christian Concept of Humanity,” was published by Bishop Pohjola and the Finnish Luther Foundation.

Attorney Paul Coleman, executive director of ADF International, said the court found the district attorney was “selecting” comments from Dr Räsänen’s libretto and radio appearance with “a comedian but also a hostile interviewer” to plead his case. He said the court’s decision made it clear that “the speech must be considered in context”.

Mr. Coleman said, “In terms of how the court framed this case and understood the facts of this case, [it] is very clearly aligned with what the defense has put forward.

The case sparked international interest and support for the Christian politician. Reverend Andrew Brunson, a former missionary to Turkey, attended one of his hearings and Christian groups around the world rallied to his cause, including one who demonstrated outside the Finnish Embassy in Washington in 2021.

Sam Brownback, former US Ambassador for International Religious Freedom, welcomed the result.

“It should never have gone this far, but a jury in Finland has confirmed what we all knew – MP Paivi Räsänen and Bishop Juhana Pohjola enjoy freedom of expression which includes religious speech,” said said Amb. Brownback tweeted. “It’s a scandal that this case was prosecuted in the first place.”

And Georgetown University law professor Jonathan Turley said on Twitter that the ruling in favor of Dr Räsänen “is good news for free speech, but Finland needs to reconsider anti-freedom laws. expression that enabled this reckless pursuit”.

Barry F. Howard