Former Finnish Minister of Interior and Member of Parliament Päivi Räsänen’s ordeal has come to an end. She has been the subject of a criminal trial since January 24th, 2022, for having expressed religious convictions about homosexuality inspired by the Bible.
She was accused of having incited hatred against homosexuals, in violation of Section 10 of the Finnish Penal Code. The Attorney General claimed that her statements violated the equality and human dignity of homosexuals and therefore exceeded the limits of freedom of expression and religion. The prosecutor was demanding a fine, to be paid for 120 days.
The verdict, released on the afternoon of Wednesday, March 30th, was in her favour. The court acquitted her of all charges.
The scandal started in June, 2019, when she tweeted her reaction to her church’s support for the Pride march. Päivi Räsänen questioned the appropriateness of this support, recalling St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, chapter 1, verses 24-27: “The men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.”
An initial complaint sparked an investigation against the congresswoman, which multiplied into several criminal complaints. The investigation dug into her past, and found ‘evidence’ that corroborated the incriminating narrative. Over the course of the investigation, Päivi Räsänen was accused of wrongdoing by quoting St. Paul, by publishing an essay in 2004—Man and Woman He Created Them—and by conducting a polemical interview on the question, “What would Jesus think of homosexuals?” She’s been charged for those three counts of “incitement against a group of people.”
Juhana Pohjola, representative of the Lutheran Foundation of Finland, was also charged with incitement to hatred because one of Räsänen’s documents was also published on the Foundation’s website. She is also acquitted.
The case is considered to be unique in Finnish history, since three major issues are at stake: freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and the place of Biblical quotation in the public sphere.
Over two years, Päivi Räsänen was subjected to more than 13 hours of police interrogations requiring her to justify her remarks, interrogations she considers “perfectly absurd.” “I sat there with the Bible on the table,” as the police asked “about my beliefs and [asking questions such as] ‘what do you think about what the Apostle Paul is teaching here’ or ‘what do you think about these verses where he speaks about homosexual acts’,” she said in a recently published interview with ADF International.
The deputy considered these trials as an opportunity, a “privilege” in her own words: “I had the chance to tell the police what the Bible says about the value of human beings, that all people are created in the image of God, and that is why they all are valuable.” She thinks her fight is not only a matter of freedom of religion for believers, but also for freedom of speech for all citizens in general.
Päivi Räsänen is up to the challenge, partly because her experience as Minister of the Interior of Finland, 2011-2015, grants her a certain amount of legitimacy. Moreover, she is a medical doctor by training. She knows the laws, knows how to enforce them, and also knows when they are being violated or misused for political advantage.
According to the Helsinki District Court, some of the statements for which she was charged were offensive, but not so serious as to constitute hate speech not covered by the right to freedom of expression, the court concluded in a press release.
The verdict is very likely to be appealed to higher courts, especially to the European Court of Human Rights, which would take several years.